Fashawn, Boy Meets World
GOOD: This dude is nice, and the whole album is ably produced by Exile, working some nice soul chops.
Wale, Attention Deficit
BAD: Given the wide-ranging creativity on a whole bunch of his mixtapes, this record is surprisingly dull at times. There are a few flashes of excellence, and as always, he brings it lyrically, but it's not quite there. (Editor's note: Having took'n a few more listens, the first third of this album is starting to grow on me. I've been a Bun B fan ever since "Pocket Full of Stones (Port Arthur Remix)," and the guitar on that track is nice and fat. But given the awesome, intricate production on older Wale mixtapes like Broken Jazz 101 and Africahot!, I was expecting a little more. The middle third is a prime example of what I'm talking about... pretty pedestrian beats, in my opinion.)
K'naan, The Messengers mixtape series
GOOD: Working with J. Period and using beats crafted from Fela Kuti, Bob Marley and Bob Dylan, this series is awesome in every possible way. I'm waiting to hear back on an interview request from K'naan - should be pretty cool.
GOOD: My boy put me up on this jazz pianist, and he's real nice. Very bouncy sound, and on Double Booked, he works his neo-soul/hip-hop side to excellent effect.
Tech N9ne, K.O.D.
GOOD/BAD: I kind of like his new album, but apparently if you try to have a legitimate discussion about the darker aspects of the album - you know, the parts where he talks about going down on a girl and accidentally committing cannibalism, or questioning whether he really shot a friend by accident, or on purpose? - you get shouted down by a chorus of Juggaloes. I'm not denying that he's a good, nay, great rapper, who explores a lot of genuine emotional turmoil and personal reflection. Krizz Kaliko says it's just Tech provokin' us, "and y'all fall for it." I'm just sayin', Jason Whitlock might be stretching it to call Tech a devil worshiper, but you don't have to get booed out of the building just for asking.
Joss Stone, Colour Me Free!
GOOD: Despite the negligible UK spelling of "color," this is a fucking fantastic record. In the exact same retro mode as Raphael Saadiq's The Way I See It - Saadiq even provides background vocals - Colour captures the Motown sound all the way. Stone started out as an interesting oddity - the white girl who could really belt like the classic soul singers - but with this album, she's really come into her own as a name to be considered among modern soul legends. Say what you will about Beyoncé or Rihanna. They can't deliver the emotional wallop of tracks like "4 and 20" and "I Believe It to My Soul."
Hudson Mohawke, Butter
GOOD: When I last heard from Scottish producer Hudson Mohawke, he was remixing a Taz Buckfaster track for Jay Scarlett's excellent New Worlds compilation, and it sounded like a berserk Gameboy raiding a chicken coop. But Butter is almost a whole new genre: turbo-soul-pop, a crazy pastiche of buzzes, whirs, drums and vocals. It's best in small doses, but it's something to behold.