Mega Hip-Hop Final Digest: Lil Uzi Vert, Jay Electronica, Don Toliver and Jack Harlow edition
This weekend featured what was hands down the most electric outpouring of music yet. It saw releases from some of trap music’s most popular mainstream artists such as Lil Uzi Vert and Rich the Kid, two up and coming forces in hip-hop who go by the names of Don Toliver & Jack Harlow, and rap connoisseurs’s longest awaited project of the century from Jay Electronica (an album 13 years in the making, or wait, scratch that, 40 days and 40 nights).
Our music team came together to answer some pressing questions about the fullest weekend of music in 2020 thus far.
Questions posed by Ralph James
Answers by Carter Ferryman, Evan Linden, Howie Butler, Marty Gross and Ralph James
Let’s begin with a question that’s practically unanswerable: What’s your favorite song that dropped this weekend?
Marty: I think I have to say “Ghost of Soulja Slim”. The instrumental gave so much space for the geniuses Jay-Z and Electronica to work their magic. It was politically and religiously charged and every time I listen, I unravel a different distinct message or bar. It’s a thought provoking and elegant track that stood out above the rest.
How: I gotta go with Marty here. "Ghost of Soulja Slim" was epic. The Jays absolutely spazzed and delivered their most consistently stunning bars on this track. Production throughout Jay Electronica's A Written Testimony was absolutely stellar, but 'Ghost of Soulja Slim' had that accelerated boom-bap sound that complimented their back-and-forth delivery. Close second would have to go to "Yessirski" by Uzi and 21 Savage.
Carter: This is almost unanswerable, that much is true. If I had to pick one, however, I’d prolly go with “Ezekiel’s Wheel” by Jay Electronica, HOV and The-Dream. Hov’s chorus, Jay’s production and The-Dream’s vocals are all razor sharp here - the looping clang of the instrumental keeps a slow, comforting pace. Also, the Michael Jackson/Star Wars bars from Jay Elec are perfect. I don’t know, it’s just a wildly pleasing record off of a wonderful debut album.
Luv vs. The World 2 by Lil Uzi Vert
Lil Uzi Vert’s deluxe album (which was more of a sequel than anything), Luv vs. The World 2, has arrived. How does it stand in comparison to Eternal Atake?
Marty: I really think that the Luv vs. The World 2 is a lot better than EA. The sequel was a lot more concise and gave a ton of new aspects. I thought a lot of the features were somewhat astonishing and the songs did drag on for too long like on EA. The instrumentals on EA were more unique and had a lot of potential, but the lack of switch ups or change in any tone became dry.
Evan: The deluxe edition definitely enhanced EA as a whole, but honestly, the 14 new tracks top many of the cuts that made the first round. The original version of EA has definitely grown on me over the past week, but the deluxe edition is immaculate from first listen.
How: Eternal Atake may have grown on me a bit here and there over the last week, but I still see it as a decent offering from Philadelphia's Lil Uzi Vert. LUV vs The World 2 was nice though. However, I may be biased choosing it because of the abundance of Pi'erre Bourne produced tracks and features. The deluxe cut sounded a lot more like the SoundCloud leaks that got me excited for an Uzi Project, something that rarely happens.
Carter: Eternal Atake is Uzi’s best album to date. The deluxe release is pretty solid, but I think EA is really in a class of its own here. It’s Uzi personified. I like it a lot.
Unlike Eternal Atake, Uzi 2.0 capitalized on a ton of guest spots from artists that fall under the same umbrella as Vert. Who had the best feature?
Evan: Uzi really recruited the trap dream team for the deluxe. For the all-stars, I’d go with Sosa on “Bean (Kobe),” Future on “Wassup,” and Thugger on “Strawberry Peels” and “Got the Guap”.
Marty: It has to be Mr. Keef himself. He’s the Chicago drill sergeant and blows me away everytime I listen to him. Nudy surprised me as well. He dismantled the instrumental.
How: For me it had to be Thugger. I'd have to give the edge to his contributions on "Strawberry Peels" too. He's always been the man when it comes to vocal inflections. His wild and obscure inflections really helped to fill out the 808-heavy slapper of a beat. The majority of his lyrics may have been two words repeated over and over, but you knew what you were getting into when you clicked on the album! Jeffrey really set the tone early for this banger.
Carter: That’s a clown question. Sir Keith Cozart of O-Block.
A Written Testimony by Jay Electronica
Jay Electronica compiled 13 years worth of capital-B BARS and stuffed them into a 10-track, 40-minute long album. Was it worth the wait?
Evan: It was absolutely worth the wait. Considering that most fans and critics completely wrote off the idea of a Jay Elec studio album ever releasing, I think we would have been content with anything. This album went above and beyond my personal expectations.
How: If we're going back thirteen years I hadn't even hit my Big Sean 'Finally Famous' and Mac Miller 'Blue Slide Park' phase of enlightenment that got me into Hip-Hop. I cannot sit here and cap, I only waited for a couple years. It still felt like an eternity and let me tell ya… This album is something special.
Carter: Jay Electronica’s standalone 2009 track “Exhibit C” will forever be my all-time favorite rap song. It’s a masterpiece. Are there any songs that hit that zenith of bar-getting on A Written Testimony? No, but it came close a couple times. I think it lived up to the hype. Only thing I wish I got a little more of was more Jay and less HOV.
Who won the Bar-for-Bar Battle: Jay Electronica or Jay-Z?
Marty: I gotta say Jay-Z. Elec is amazing, but I think the New York beauty and expertise of Jay-Z is unmatched by so many rappers. Simply put: Hov is one of the greatest rappers of all time.
How: Jay-Z. Although I think it's cool he got so involved, I feel bad for Electronica. Hip-Hop Twitter was having a field day saying he got bodied on his own debut album. There aren't many who wouldn't get bodied, but Jay-Z is the GOAT (my goat, everyone has their own opinion). He comes different on every verse, making it hard to get tired of his flow. It's a classic sound that's constantly tweaked and manipulated making it a refreshing listen every time.
Heaven or Hell by Don Toliver
Don Toliver has been receiving an inordinate amount of hype for an artist who has as little officially published music as he does. Did Heaven or Hell live up to your expectations?
Evan: Heaven or Hell highlights his potential, but also shows that his music is fairly repetitive and quite frankly, boring and uninspired at times. I think he’s a valuable member of Cactus Jack, but as a solo artist, he has a lot of work to do in order to separate himself.
How: Sadly no, I enjoyed his debut project Donny Womack a lot. Don Toliver was easily my favorite new artist of 2018. I believe in him as a songwriter and vocalist, but this project just felt uninspired. There were some high points but I expected some sort of cohesive theme or idea. Heaven or Hell started nicely, but I lost focus as I heard mediocre track after mediocre track. Quick side note: the instrumental on “After Party” is atrocious, it sounds like 3 different beats layered over each other. It's so chaotic it sounds like the piano melody from “Mo Bamba” taking turns with a blind Harpist, not a good look for Sonny Digital.
Carter: Did anyone expect this album to be anything but mid? I didn’t have expectations for Heaven or Hell. I knew what it was going to be. I guess I'll give Don Toliver some points for being consistent.
Has Donny surpassed Sheck Wes as the unofficial Vice President of Travis Scott’s JACK BOYS?
Marty: I don’t think so. I really think Mudboy is one of the most underrated releases of 2018. As I do love Don, I think Sheck has more versatility and a more unique persona than Don.
Evan: Trav is the don, Sheck is the underboss, and Donny is the consigliere.
How: Yes, but I would not say it was because of Heaven or Hell. Donny Boy was on fire throughout JACKBOYS and I see him as number two because of his musical and stylistic resemblance to frontman Jacques La Flame. I see Sheck as the wildcard. Sheck is the crazy motherfucker capable of anything who brings the energy with him wherever he goes.
Carter: I’m with Marty here. Mudboy runs laps around this new Donny release.
Sweet Action by Jack Harlow
The Louisville representative’s fame has skyrocketed since his video for “WHAT’S POPPIN” that was directed by Cole Bennett dropped. What do you think of the suavely silhouetted style that Harlow spits in?
How: I enjoy Jack Harlow as much as the next guy. He has clever punchlines and an awesome flow, but he was throwing me off throughout Sweet Action. I thought he was getting corny over the project, but he would finish his corny set-ups with punchlines that were a 180 into full Rico Suave. For example...
"I don't jerk it when I'm finna get some // and it paid off for me cus I'm finishing strong." or
"we was playing uno she told me draw four, I said what you wearing drawers for?"
He's just too smooth to be corny, and that's what I love about him.
Carter: I LOVE THIS LINE FROM HOWIE ABOVE. This could not be more factual. I really wanted to hate Jack Harlow. He’s actually a really unique artist, however. Big-ups for the curly hair too, that’s a rare flex in rap. Anyways, I agree with HB, his flow feels effortless yet focused. He’s having fun and embracing his style. Most importantly, he doesn’t try too hard - a fault we see white rappers fall into all too often.
This is Harlow’s fifth project since 2016. Is it his best yet?
Evan: I personally believe that his last project, Confetti, is his best work to-date. Sweet Action would take the #2 or #3 spot, competing with 2018’s Loose.
Finally, the “Be All, End All” question of the digest. Which of these projects was your favorite?
Evan: EA (Deluxe) is my personal favorite, but A Written Testimony is definitely the most special.
Marty: I have to say A Written Testimony. I really think that there are so many different perspectives and deeper messages that make you think. It’s much deeper than rap.
How: My favorite album from the weekend was Jay Electronica’s A Written Testimony. I have a feeling this will be an album of the year contender for me. Electronica and Hov duking it out on each track, production from Swizz Beats and Alchemist, and “Get The Gat” interpolation?!? I truly couldn’t ask for much more. Uzi isn’t an artist I’m usually impressed with but EA Deluxe gets the Howie Seal of Approval. Jack Harlow gave me pretty much EXACTLY what I was expecting; nothing more, nothing less. Don Toliver underwhelmed me heavily which is a shame when considering the potential he has and the resources at his disposal.
Carter: A Written Testimony. That’s just my taste though. I love Uzi’s project as well. Both are easily 8+/10 records.