Sekou Bermiss joined the RSG team in 2015 as co-host/CO-creator of "Hustle & Flows" podcast (shows now available now in iTunes, iPhone users press & hold this link) where he and Marques Flowers break down the past, present, and future Hip Hop topics with a heavy dose of sports mixed in. For the second time, RSG is proud (and thankful) to present Sekou’s 2017 Hip Hop Year in Review, an annual classic he's published for the past decade plus. For those who already know, we are sorry for the wait and don't blame Sekou, he's had this done for a while - its been on us; for those about to consume one of his reviews for the first time, well....just enjoy the unique combination of nuance and simplicity wrapped into an analyses that would rival Source Magazine's famed level of LP critique. Get ready to go reevalute your opinion of the 2017 Hip Hop scene. Enjoy and let us know what you think on Facebook or Twitter. Here is the 2017 edition and the 2015 & 2016 reviews are still available above..
Dream them dreams then man-up and live them dreams, because a life without dreams is black and white, and the universe flows in technicolor and surround-sound.
- Reggie Osse a.k.a. Combat Jack
Your simple words just don't
move me, you're minor, we're major
You're all up in the game and don't deserve to be a player
-Albert Johnson a.k.a.Prodigy
I know many of y’all are boycotting the NFL and might not know this, but the 2017 season was awful for quarterback health. Some of the best teams in the league had trouble protecting their QB and saw their season go down the drain. It reminded me just how important a strong offensive line is for team success. I was inspired by that analogy as I looked back over the year of 2017 in hip hop. I thought about what were the albums in 2017 that did a great job helping hip hop move the chains forward. Below are my All-Pro selections that provided the foundation for the 2017 Hip Hop Season.
Center: 4:44, Jay-Z
I turned that 2 to a 4, 4 to
I turned my life into a nice first week release date
Y'all out here still takin' advances, huh?
Me and my n----s takin' real chances, uh
Y'all on the 'Gram holdin' money to your ear
There's a disconnect, we don't call that money over here
-Story of O.J.
Every offensive play begins with the center. While other linemen can focus on their own assignments, the center has to keep his eye on multiple things at the same time. He has to see the entire defense and call out blocking assignments. This largely describes Jay-Z as an artist, but especially 4:44 as an album. This is a grown folk rap album. Super personal. It was actually refreshing hearing Jay use his God MC talent to share his evolved views on family (marriage and fatherhood (4:44), the rap industry (Moonlight), and collective black wealth (Legacy). There are a couple of truly “wow moments”. The first time I listened to The Story of O.J. was a wow moment (“mma, okay”). When he proudly shares that his mom is openly gay and then lets her kick some poetry on the track (Smile). Rapping about his marital transgressions with his wife singing the background (Family Feud). Regardless of what he said on The Black Album, Jay is, in fact, rhyming like Common Sense. He is teaching life lessons to fans and fellow artists, but in a way that we could all happily accept the lesson. I could probably write a whole post on the genius of the production. No ID was working his magic like the old Phoenix Suns training staff who worked miracles with Grant Hill, Steve Nash, and Shaq. Lastly, the center position is also one that, if you are skilled enough, you can play for a really long time. 13th album and Jay is still in great shape.
Left Guard: Laila’s Wisdom, Rapsody
I'm a trip like Grayson
Y'all never made me valid
I learn that from Phylicia Rashad and Debbie Allen
I'm the other one them another ones screaming like Khaled
We don't match up, ask my stylist
I rock Nike and New Balance
I drink water by gallons, y'all should call me captain
I was told to be the flow and not follow it while y’all actin’
I'm the better version of what you used to think and call talent
I been bankin, check my balance
You a bet away from skidrow
I owe Sallie Mae but owe my people way mo’
God rested on the seventh day
And worked on me on day fo’
What is unique about guards is that they need to be versatile. They have to be strong enough to blocking interior linemen (who are humongous individuals), and they have to be quick enough to come out of position and serve as the lead blocker for traps, sweeps, and screens. Laila’s Wisdom is strong and versatile. In many ways the album defies categorization. It is conscious but also playful and silly (she admits to making it clap to Wacka Flocka last Christmas). The album is classy and country (see: Chrome). Rapsody’s lyrics are abstract and pragmatic. She can say something profound about black beauty and then drop a gun metaphor using a super obscure Cosby Show reference in Black and Ugly (it took me a good week to remember the reference, I refused to google it). The track production is clean and dusty. It is peppered with clever wordplay, but overflowing with authentic soul. In short, this is an album that gives you a bit of everything. Having tracked her career for a few years, this was a leap year. She is working on her technique and getting her weight up. She might be competing for the tackle spot soon.
Right Guard: BOOMIVERSE, Big Boi
Usually I don't do this, dumb
it down, go stupid
Since 17 been countin' M's, my bank account's on Goofy
They say Cosby gave 'em roofies
Now who know what the truth is
Chicago's full of shooters
My garage is full of hoopties
Got that Southern drawl and all that
My pre-rolls look like ball-bats
The South got somethin' to say
And all y'all n----s can't get y'all ball back
With a young gunner at left guard I went with a vet at right guard. Big Boi has always been a hit or miss to me. He can tear down a track with the best of them, but I thought his albums always had about 3-4 song that were largely forgettable. What makes BOOMIVERSE, his first solo studio release since 2012, so good to me is the lack of filler. The first six tracks on the album are equal to any album released in 2017. It’s gets a little uneven after that, but there are still some gems on the backside of the album. The album also does a lot of different things. Content-wise it’s classic Big Boi, but sonically, it’s ranges from Southern rap classic (Kill Jill) to radio friendly pop song (Mic Jack). It can go anywhere. In the car, at the gym, at the house, in the club. There are a lot of features, but they all work really well. Everyone, including Sleepy Brown, Jeezy, Killer Mike, and Pimp C, brought their ‘A’ game and perhaps they kept Big Boi focused. In any case, this album can go anywhere.
Right Tackle: Culture, Migos
Raindrop (drip), drop
Smokin' on cookie in the hotbox
F----n' on your b---h, she a thot, thot (thot)
Cookin' up dope in the crockpot (pot)
-Bad and Boujee
Unlike guards, tackles rarely run traps or sweeps, but they need to be prepared for whatever is thrown at them. As a result, tackles tend to be the best athletes on the line. They tend to have the longest reach and the best technique. Based on that, I picked two albums that I thought had the biggest reach and are the exemplar for their subgenre. On the right side I have Culture by Migos. I was very late to the Migos party. I was at the house watching ESPN contemplating if I really want to iron clothes and go to this party. After a few pressure texts telling me I should come out, I finally caught an Uber and showed up. Gotta say, not a party that I would host, but it’s a good hang. The Migos flow is often vilified by fans of #lyrics #bars. I will admit that it is hard to take some of these songs seriously when I deconstruct them, but (1) I know this music is no longer made for people my age and (2) and more important, when I hear Migos and I’m not paying attention, my head is usually nodding. I believe that all music is fundamentally about feel and Culture is chock full of the feels. Time will tell if these cats are still making relevant albums in 5 years, but for right now, the impact of Culture of hip hop is undeniable.
Left Tackle: DAMN., Kendrick Lamar
You take two strangers and put
'em in random predicaments
Give 'em a soul so they can make their own choices and live with it
Twenty years later, them same strangers, you make 'em meet again
Inside recording studios where they reapin' their benefits
Then you start remindin' them about that chicken incident
Whoever thought the greatest rapper would be from coincidence?
Because if Anthony killed Ducky, Top Dawg could be servin' life
While I grew up without a father and die in a gunfight
Tackles protect the edge. Assuming the QB is right handed the left tackle focuses on keeping the QB alive. The left tackle usually faces the opponents best players and, in turn, is often the highest paid offensive player on most (good) teams behind the franchise QB. I can’t think of anyone I have more faith in that Kung-Fu Kenny to keep my QB’s jersey clean. It’s rare that a highly anticipated album by one of the hottest artists out meets or exceeds expectation, but that is what Kendrick did with DAMN. DAMN felt like a step back towards good kid, M.A.A.D. City. There wasn’t as coherent a narrative, but it was heavy on content but didn’t require an ethnomusicologist to translate it (well, most of it). In Netflix terms, GKMC was more like Stranger Things with a large connected narrative arc, and DAMN is more like Black Mirror with self-contained stories so that you can hop in at any time and enjoy it. The songs are self-explanatory (See HUMBLE) but he weaves through love, and pride, and religion, and black pride in a way that is amazingly relatable. Somehow I feel like his lyricism is still underrated because so many people dislike his voice. There are very few artists who can make a popular “radio friendly” song and still pack it with a thousand words per minute (See DNA). FEAR is quiet and masterfully self-reflective; YAH is fun and carefree. And then there is DUCKWORTH, which almost broke my twitter feed when it dropped. I listened to it for at least a day straight on repeat. It is a masterpiece of storytelling packed on top of a 9th Wonder triple-decker club sandwich.
Honorable Mentions/Tight Ends: More Life, Drake & Rather You Than Me, Rick Ross
Tight ends are a half lineman and half receivers. They do a lot of grunt work, but in modern offenses they are mostly diva receivers. In short, these albums give you what you need about half the time.
Adrian Peterson Award: Black Thought
I know this is review about linemen, but I had to throw this award in there to pay proper tribute to Black Thought’s the now legendary 10 minute “freestyle” on Funkmaster Flex’s show. Much like how people forget that AP exists or rule him out as over the hill like when he was glued to the Saints bench at the beginning of the season. But when motivated he can remind everyone that he is one of the best to have ever done it (37 rushes for 153 yards against the 49ers in Week 9). Both AP and Black Thought are at the stage in their careers where he can’t perform like that all the time. But with the right situation and motivation, they can still dominate the game.
- Sekou Bermiss