SZA - Aftermath (Un Music)
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Top Dawg Entertainment (TDE) is an American independent record label founded in 2004, by CEO Anthony "Top Dawg" Tiffith. Terrence "Punch" Henderson is president of the label. There are currently eleven artists signed to the label: the label's flagship artists, Black Hippy members Jay Rock, Ab-Soul and Schoolboy Q, as well as Isaiah Rashad, SZA, Lance Skiiiwalker, SiR, Reason, Zacari, Ray Vaughn, and Doechii. TDE is also the former label of Kendrick Lamar. The label houses a production division that includes Digi+Phonics, THC, King Blue, Kal Banx and Derek "MixedByAli" Ali. The musical focus of the label is predominantly album-oriented and progressive rap.
In 1997, Anthony Tiffith (also known by his monikers, Dude Dawg and Top Dawg) embarked on a career in music as a record producer, producing for rappers such as The Game and Juvenile, among others. In 2003, Tiffith found a then 15-year-old Kendrick Lamar, a Compton native, who at the time went by K.Dot and had just released his first mixtape, which gained recognition and earned the young rapper some local buzz in his area. Tiffith saw potential in Lamar, signing him onto the label from the strength of the rapper's debut mixtape. It wasn't until 2005 that TDE started to gain success with another California-based rapper, Jay Rock. Following Rock's signing, TDE signed joint venture deals with Warner Bros. and later Asylum Records. However, following the merger, TDE began planning an exit strategy after the labels failed to handle Rock's debut Follow Me Home properly.
Top Dawg Entertainment houses a production team named Digi+Phonics, composed of music producers Dave Free, Willie B, Tae Beast and Sounwave. They have composed the majority of the production on many of the TDE releases.
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2022 had its ups and downs, and one of the ups is the sheer amount of great music released these past 12 months. Narrowing it down to just 50 albums was no easy feat, but we've come up with a list that spans from small DIY bands to stadium-sized megastars, from long-awaited comebacks to exciting new artists, from hardcore to hip hop, from indie rock to noise rock, from dream pop to Dream Unending. There's all kinds of stuff in between, plus honorable mentions from individual staff members at the bottom of the list and more genre-specific lists (like punk, metal, rap, R&B, folk, country, jazz, and reggae).
Born out of the ashes of the now-defunct Flourishing, and also counting members of Artificial Brain, Luminous Vault, and Castevet among their ranks, Aeviterne have turned into a beast of their own. Flourishing fans will recognize Garett Bussanick's distinct shriek off the bat, but neither that album nor Aeviterne's 2018 debut EP Sireless (recorded before Samuel Smith of Artificial Brain and Luminous Vault joined the band) could prepare you for their monstrous debut album The Ailing Facade. The record's informed by black and death metal but Aeviterne reshape those familiar styles in dark, twisted, experimental ways. The record is a journey through blasts of grindy fury, passages of psychedelia, dazzling guitar work, ghostly synths, and an eerie atmosphere that hovers over the intricate musicianship. As apocalyptic as this album can sound, it's also strangely beautiful. [A.S.]
What do you do when the world's turned upside down, your band finds itself at a crossroads, and you're wondering: who even are we What are we supposed to do If you're The Wonder Years, you write the most definitive record of your career. The Hum Goes On Forever is the band's seventh album in 15 years, and it truly feels like the album they've been working towards the entire time. It's the ideal version of a band growing with their music, with their fans, and as people. Singer Dan Campbell is a decade older than he was when he wondered if he fucked up because all the people he grew up with had kids and wives, and now he's a father of two. He can't honestly or authentically write about the topics he was writing about then, but he can write about his current struggles and concerns with the same fervor he had on his band's early records, and that's exactly what he does on The Hum Goes On Forever. He delivers some of his best and most powerful performances yet over a backdrop that casually weaves between pop punk, emo, alternative rock, singer/songwriter material, and darker, heavier post-hardcore in a way that sounds distinctly like The Wonder Years. Hum has the instant thrills of the band's earlier records and the adventurous side of their later records, sounding like a culmination of everything they've done and yet another step forward. It's the strongest evidence yet that The Wonder Years have carved a path of their own, while continuing to uplift the basement-dwelling DIY punk scene that they got their start in, and it's some of the most sincere, soul-baring guitar rock that the past 12 months have had to offer. [A.S.]
Jason Pierce has basically been making the same album repeatedly for 30 years, mixing space rock, gospel, pharmaceutical references, Velvet Underground drones, noisy freakouts and grand romantic gestures into something called Spiritualized. And that's just fine. Like Wes Anderson or Yayoi Kusama, he has an instantly identifiable style and is happy to mine it forever. Sometimes albums are good, and sometimes they're great. Everything Was Beautiful, a companion piece to 2018's And Nothing Hurt, is one of the great ones. The album draws parallels to Spiritualized's 1997 masterpiece, Ladies and gentlemen we are floating in space, from the prescription meds cover art to the whispered intro to its scope which includes multiple studios and dozens of musicians. Clearly Pierce knew this one had the stuff to hold up to the comparisons. Everything is beautiful. May J Spaceman float in space forever. [B.P.]
Yeah Yeah Yeahs' first album in nine years is blissfully restrained. The album hits hard at all the right moments, with propulsive drums and kaleidoscopic synths running all the way through. Still, powerhouse that she is, Karen O creates tension, chaos, and space in key moments. Cool It Down is dotted with musical references too; Karen cited David Bowie as an influence on lead single "Spitting Off The Edge Of The World" featuring Perfume Genius, "Burning" interpolates piano and strings from Frankie Valli's "Beggin," "Fleez" lyrically and stylistically nods towards ESG, "Wolf" obliquely recalls Duran Duran in its first line, "I'm hungry like a wolf." The album's close, comprised of "Different Today" and spoken-word track "Mars," takes a softer, spacier turn. Yeah Yeah Yeahs shake up all these influences and styles with their own boundless creativity. Cool It Down blares and whispers, exploring the interplay of control and release, dark depths and soaring highs. [A.G.]
Sharon Van Etten's discography over the last decade-plus has been one career high after another -- she's never made the same record twice, she's always moving deeper and more fully into her sound -- and she's kept that run going with her sixth album. Rather than release advance singles, she previewed We've Been Going About This All Wrong with a trailer featuring photos and video clips from her life, set to sweeping, cinematic music. That was the perfect preview for the album, which features some of her most dense, gorgeous music yet, and really deserves to be appreciated in full. She's described it as her pandemic record, "an emotional journey that documents the rollercoaster of the last two years," and with the red and orange sky depicted in the cover art serving as a clarion call for an approaching catastrophe, the domestic happenings she recounts are transposed to an epic scale to match the soaring, otherworldly music. She doesn't break from the narrative until the end of the arc, when "Mistakes," one of the catchiest, most pop-leaning songs she's ever written, provides a pivotal, cathartic release. It's a testament to how her music has only grown in power over the years, not only to haunt, but also to heal. [A.H.]
Earl Sweatshirt was once poised to be on the path to rap superstardom, but he'd rather hang out with experimental underground acts like Armand Hammer and Zeeloperz, who both appear on his latest project Sick! and fit perfectly within Earl's increasingly progressive sonic palette. Sick! is built upon a warped, trippy base crafted by The Alchemist, Navy Blue, Black Noi$e, Samiyam, Earl himself, and a few others, and Earl matches that with dizzying rhymes that avoid easily digestible hooks and defy traditional rap song structure. His words are as daze-inducing as the music itself, coating stories about Earl's personal life and the pandemic in cloudy metaphor. It's an album unlike anything Earl's made in the past, and it pushes the envelope just as much as the innovative non-major label acts that inspire him. [A.S.]
The conclusion to Leikeli47's Beauty trilogy is also her best album yet. One of the most unique and charismatic rappers around, Leikeli busts out memorable hooks, hilarious punchlines, and hard-earned boasts as she bounces between moods; she can go from fun and lighthearted to serious introspection at the drop of a hat. And in a year where mainstream hip hop has embraced house music and ballroom culture more wholly than it has in a while, credit where it's due to Leikeli47, who's been doing that for years and did it as expertly as ever on Shape Up. Whether she's offering up a pulsating ballroom anthem like "Jay Walk," beating radio-rappers at their own game on "Chitty Bang," or subverting a famous rapper's moniker on "LL Cool J" (that's "ladies love cool jewelry"), Leikeli47 strikes a balance between catchy, innovative, and fun that puts Shape Up in a league of its own. [A.S.] 59ce067264