We got beans, greens, potatoes, tomatoes, chicken, hella Migos and an assortment of dressings provided by but not limited to Gunna, Lil Baby, Meek Mill, Tory Lanez and Cardi B. In case the title and first sentence wasn’t any indication, I would like to present my very own Thanksgiving dinner experience. It will come to you in the form of some of the best albums, songs, features, or simply iconic moments in 2018’s Hip-Hop and R&B likened to various aspects of the holiday. Everyone has their own preferences for the meal, so I shall do my best to be inclusive. I hope you enjoy, and I certainly welcome your thoughts.
Turkey — Astroworld by Travis Scott
Turkey is the staple for Thanksgiving, undeniably. It’s the centerpiece, a longstanding tradition and a symbol for what the day represents. Thus, it makes sense for the 2018 album representing turkey to be the album that the year would be most remembered for years down the road. Obviously, I can’t accurately predict that now, but three albums come to mind.
Daytona by Pusha T, a concise display of timeless lyricism powered by Kanye West’s transcendent production. Tha Carter V by Lil Wayne, an album six years in the making which for the culture was a celebration of his freedom and a return to prominence. Not to mention the viral challenge created to the tune of Swizz Beats-produced “Uproar.” And then there’s the winner, Astroworld by Travis Scott.
Astroworld was quite literally a created universe full of thrills and twists conveyed through 17 dynamic songs. The years of promotion, the merchandise, the festival, and the smash hit “SICKO MODE” all contributed to a banner year for the Houston star. His A-List of features (including Drake, Frank Ocean, The Weeknd, Kid Cudi, and so many others) all made their marks on the project in special ways, and their efforts felt genuinely impassioned as opposed to being put together solely for commercial success.
There isn’t much that is bad to say about this project and in a year where several artists strived toward being eclectic, Trav certainly stood out among the rest. Just as the turkey stands out among other dishes, physically and symbolically.
Stuffing — Culture II by Migos; QUAVO HUNCHO by Quavo; The Last Rocket by Takeoff; TBD by Offset
Stuffing is complementary to Turkey, and also a known tradition for the Turkey Day meal. Though it may not be a favorite dish for many, it’s unavoidable as it often is literally stuffed into the turkey or is served in the same tray. So, in a way, it’s a force but if the right person makes it then it’s more than welcome. We can’t think of anyone who has forced themselves onto the market more than Migos, fellow residents of the trap lane of music occupied by Travis Scott. By the end of this year, Migos will have put out 4 albums whether it be as a group or Quavo, Offset and Takeoff individually.
Though Culture II, QUAVO HUNCHO, and The Last Rocket were all laced with some bangers, the first two were a combined 43 songs. Additionally, the two albums were widely viewed as falling short overall for a lack of narrative and aiming for hits. Though there were almost 9 months between their releases, all three members of the trio were consistently being featured on other artists’ music.
Takeoff’s debut solo LP The Last Rocket was more positively received at only 14 songs and one feature from Quavo. It’s still being digested, so time will truly tell how that album matches up.
Migos are appreciated, don’t get us wrong, but at this point, we know they’re going to drop at least 3 projects a year moving forward and consuming it all can almost be overwhelming so avoidance is often instinctual. Who knows? Maybe Offset’s album in December is going to be the quality stuffing cooked with love by your auntie, trumping Quavo’s store-bought offering.
Ham — Daytona by Pusha T
The ham isn’t always there depending on the household, but its differing flavor from turkey adds some diversity to the meal. And while ham itself gets the job done, dressing it up with a glaze and pineapple slices not only makes it visually pleasing but there’s an added, unique taste. Here, we have Daytona.
His first solo project since 2015’s King Push — Darkest Before Dawn: The Prelude, we find King Push at his best. His lyrical ability has truly aged like fine wine and his overall performance served as a reminder that his niche of rap will always have a place in music. And while many rappers of today try to nudge their way into his lane by promoting the use of drugs in their music, the former Clipse member continues to convey a sense of elegance in being the distributor.
Push doesn’t give us music often, but when he does it’s a nice deviation from a lot of the content we get. Just as the ham can be a nice change from the turkey.
Sweet Potatoes/Yams — The Black Panther Soundtrack by TDE
This is definitely a favorite dish for many. One could argue that the right batch of candied yams with marshmallows and cinnamon could be a dessert. Yet the yams, sweet as they are, remain a part of the actual dinner portion of Thanksgiving. A side dish that could be viewed as a treat sounds a lot like The Black Panther Soundtrack curated by Kendrick Lamar.
Black Panther took over the early part of 2018 and is still making waves for displaying black heroism while combining messages relevant to today’s overall climate in the world, whether social or political. The fact K Dot and T.D.E. CEO Anthony “Top Dawg” Tiffith were enlisted to handle the soundtrack was extremely exciting for many, giving this the feel of an album more than a soundtrack. I don’t think anyone anticipated what we would get.
The soundtrack was a barrage of talent and creativity, with scene-stealing verses from TDE’s Jay Rock and Reason (more on them later), infectious California vibes courtesy of SOB x RBE on “Paramedic,” Jorja Smith, Khalid and Swae Lee anchoring the R&B cuts and much, much more. Though the movie’s plot is illustrated throughout the soundtrack, it’s very easy to get lost in the music and forget its intent pertaining to the film. The overall cohesion is one that is commonplace for the standard, conventional Hip-Hop album. That is where the treat comes in, much like candied yams feeling like dinner and dessert simultaneously.
But candied yams have another function, connected to the next dish much like the strong connection between The Black Panther Soundtrack and a certain album that dropped in June.
Macaroni and Cheese — Redemption by Jay Rock
Macaroni and cheese is another favorite for many. The way that some people on this planet can combine pasta and cheese together in such holy matrimony brings tears to eyes of the toughest folk after that first bite. It’s not just any food, but it’s one of the soul foods. You just feel a certain way when you eat it. And combining it on the fork with some of those candied yams? Mannnn.
“King’s Dead” was certainly a standout from The Black Panther Soundtrack, with appearances by Kung Fu Kenny, Jay Rock, Future and James Blake. While Hendrix may have the most popular line of the song when he just goes on his catchy falsetto run, Rock’s overall verse was regarded by many as the best. So it was a pleasant surprise to see he included a shorter iteration of the track on his powerful album Redemption.
Originally the first artist to really pop from TDE’s camp, the 33-year-old out of Watts, California definitely can be overlooked due to Kendrick Lamar’s growing popularity. While commercially inferior, lyrically he’s no slouch even when compared to his labelmate. Redemption is truly introspective, reflecting on a near-death motorcycle accident and his tough journey throughout his rap career. People often promote their hardships, but the detail and storytelling by Jay definitely set his story apart.
J. Cole, Jeremih, and SZA contribute to the pensive mood of the album, but tracks like “Rotation 112th” and “WIN” add a high energy and optimism here. Similarly, Mac and cheese can touch the soul and make you reflect on how every moment you don’t spend eating it is a loss. Simultaneously, it can make you thankful for the blessing bestowed upon you in the form of that dish. Perhaps we’re being dramatic, but Jay Rock’s album feels as much of a reflection on the losses as it is a celebration of the victories.
Mashed Potatoes w/ Gravy — Scorpion by Drake
Mashed potatoes are another dish that may not be standard for all on Turkey Day but many people enjoy it when it is there. Gravy is an enjoyable bonus, but too much gravy can be a turn-off. The 6 God is easily one of the more popular artists of today, and he delivers quite a lot of music. A critique he has received throughout his career is that he claims to be a rapper despite often putting out R&B music and none of his albums are 100% rap.
The scientist he is, Drake decided to lean into this critique with a double disc consisting of one side rap and one side R&B. At 25 songs total, there were definitely hits and other good songs, but the general feeling is that it was too much. Previous albums of his, while popular, have also been lengthy but never to this degree. He was in the midst of a beef with Push and Ye, and fielding slander for his lovechild. As a result, the batch of mashed potatoes that is a Drake album, along with not being a standard rap album to the critics, had too much gravy with Scorpion. There is such a thing as too much of something good.
Vegetables — KOD by J. Cole
Once you reach a certain age, you stop complaining about the presence of vegetables in meals and Thanksgiving is no exception. They aren’t the most glamorous option, but definitely necessary with all of the protein and starch entering your body in large quantities that day. Not to mention, they’re good for you and help ensure a long, healthy life.
In a rap world where money, drugs, and fame are glorified, Jermaine Cole stands out as the anti-star. The basketball shorts-wearing recluse used his 4/20 release to address his outlook on that very world. He laid out his own pitfalls and temptations to succumb, but stood firm and also provided some much-needed game to the Lils of the rap world in the album closer “1985.”
The popularity and money are cool, but they can go away quickly. Cole has found a way to remain relevant despite not being the most popular star with flashy clothes and antics. KOD was a much-needed album in 2018, and rap in general, much like the salad and vegetables always have a place at the table come that beautiful November day. Life and longevity.
Dressings — Every song or album with the word “Drip” in it.
For those who of us who don’t love veggies or salad, the dressing is a blessing. It comes in many different forms and will elevate the blandest of salads to a tolerable or even delectable level. Some adventurous individuals take salad dressings and throw them on other foods. You may not be able to count on everything tasting good, but dressing usually doesn’t fail.
There’s something about using the word drip in a song repetitively that has seemingly made those songs amongst the more catchy of 2018. Not necessarily the best, but memorable and enjoyable. Gunna dedicated a whole series of projects to it, but 2018’s Drip Season 3 especially took the year by storm and propelled the young rapper into the mainstream spotlight.
Alongside his running buddy, Lil Baby, he put out single “Drip Too Hard” followed by the collab album Drip Harder. Cardi and Migos flexed hard on her fourth single, “Drip” and Tory Lanez linked with Meek Mill again to triple the sauce with “DrIP DrIp Drip.”
Dressings aren’t food and they don’t make things perfect, but they at least add some good to the parts of a meal we may not prefer. Just like some may not want to hear those artists all the time, but the word drip just sticks. You can’t help but nod along or yell lyrics in the right environment.
Cranberry Sauce — Zoo by Russ
This is the part of Thanksgiving dinner that many are apprehensive about. It’s called cranberry sauce but it’s got the consistency of jello. It definitely provides something different for our pallets, but taking that leap and eating it isn’t always the easiest thing to do. Most never do and denounce cranberry sauce without even giving it a chance.
Russ has built up quite a following, though it is full of social media trolls and those who doubt his abilities. He’s very confident in himself, promoting how he writes, raps, sings, produces, engineers and owns his masters. He also publicly speaks against the promotion of drug use in rap and consistently points out the negative nature of the industry. As a result, he gets a lot of hate. A lot of which comes from those not familiar with his catalog.
ZOO was the New Jersey-born artist getting out all of his feelings on wax, but also letting listeners in on his personal life. While there is a certain hesitance in engaging with Russ’s content based off of his perception, the listening experience is pleasant.
Russ isn’t a bad artist in any way, but the negative perception can often translate into being seen that way. With appearances by Rick Ross, Snoop Dogg and Mahalia Russ silenced the naysayers with good music and made it a little harder for people to talk badly about him. Much like when you finally eat cranberry sauce. You can’t help but speak up in its defense if you enjoy it.
Dessert — Everything Is Love by The Carters
After all the plates you have at Thanksgiving, rational thinkers would say to skip dessert because it’s far from being needed. However, that day is not one for rational eating. Gluttony is fully appropriate and in the middle of June when many had already had their fill of music, The Carters came through with a tray of black excellence.
The surprise release by JAY-Z and Beyoncé was one people waited quite some time for. Everything Is Love is a 9-track reminder of who Hip-Hop’s royal family is, despite the hardships. They address some of their recent headlines, like the Super Bowl and withholding their music from certain streaming services. It’s a very mature rap album, not for casual consumption. Just as dessert should be eaten in moderation.
Due to the quantity and frequency of content, the release didn’t get the lengthy talk that typical Hov and Bey projects get. However, it was a treat and even if we didn’t need the dessert we found some room for it.
Parsley — J. Cole’s Feature Verses
Parsley is the finishing touch on meals. For some, it’s what takes their meal from basic to gourmet. Much like a feature verse can take a good song to straight fire. Dreamville’s lead guy had several verses this year that all deserve to be in the conversation for verses of the year or guest appearances of the year.
His love letter written in cursive on 6LACK’s “Pretty Little Fears,” his trap bounce on Moneybagg Yo’s “Say Na” and J.I.D’s “Off Deez,” and his vibrant hues on Bas’ “Tribe” are just some of the biggest home runs he’s hit. Again, these songs on their own would have been fine but no one wants their songs to just be fine. J. Cole has been the parsley of 2018, sprinkled here and there to bring music to the next level.
Random Argument Among Family Members — All rap beefs in 2018
As much as we love time with our loved ones to be all happiness and bliss, sometimes too many drinks are had and those two relatives who don’t get along finally air things out. It’s not ideal, but sometimes it’s pretty hilarious. Hopefully, they don’t come to blows like Cardi and Nicki Minaj’ s posse at Fashion Week, or air out crazy dirt like Pusha T and Drake.
Sometimes playfulness can evolve into something that seems serious, like Tory Lanez and Joyner Lucas who took things from Instagram Live to the booth with three vicious diss tracks dropping in under two days. Eminem and Machine Gun Kelly’s issues date back to 2012, and have to do with commentary on Em’s daughter. Conflict comes in all shapes and sizes, and unfortunately, sometimes big family gatherings can turn into heated battles. Or Fashion Week.
The Holy Relative — Tha Carter V by Lil Wayne
We all have those relatives who always find a way to mention their respective deity in conversation. It often comes with some statement of positivity or optimism, and even if it didn’t necessarily pertain to the conversation being had it’s encouraging. A lot of these people may have initially lived their lives a certain way, before reexamining their lives and changing their habits.
Fans anticipated Lil Wayne’s elusive C5 for years. As the landscape of rap shifted to a new generation it seemed like the album wouldn’t come and Weezy would fade away. Then everything changed, and some divine force intervened. Dramatic, but the label issues were figured out and he was able to drop.
Though a lot of the content is old according to Wayne, it feels very much so appropriate for today’s sound. He reminds folk of his influence, creates party bangers, gets in a very emotional bag describing his attempted suicide, and even puts his daughter on a song for a heartwarming moment on the album.
This aspect of the Thanksgiving experience isn’t completely about the album, as much as it is about the moment surrounding its drop. Wayne was everywhere, thanking fans for sticking with him. He won the I Am Hip Hop award at the 2018 Bet Hip-Hop Awards, and spoke about his new business plans with Elliott Wilson during a Tidal CRWN interview. He is the uncle who was down and out for some time, found Jesus, and was better for it. Now he can educate and continue to inspire those who come after him.
The Pre-Teenagers Who Are Ready To Leave The Kids’ Table — 6LACK, Ella Mai, Reason, Jorja Smith
The kids’ table is fun until it isn’t anymore. That usually comes around the pre-teen years, when the desire and effort to be seen as older and mature is arguably at its peak. The kids’ table can be likened to that stage of artists’ careers where they’ve put good music out but fans are hesitant to put them in conversation with the greats based on their time in the game or their catalogs of music.
These four are relatively new to the game but have quickly ascended the ranks to mainstream status based on the impact of their music. The four of them dropped excellent albums, with 6LACK arguably having the R&B album of the year in East Atlanta Love Letter. He definitely shows his rapping ability, but standout tracks “Stan” and “Disconnect” are soulful R&B deep cuts.
Ella Mai showed she is more than the smash-hit “Boo’d Up,” releasing her self-titled debut. She established how well she can put songs together, alone and with the likes of Chris Brown, John Legend and H.E.R. Some have gone as far to say she has revived R&B, but I won’t co-sign that. It was never dead.
Jorja Smith poured her heart out on Lost & Found, with breathtaking performances on “February 3rd” and “Blue Lights” especially. The rumors of a relationship with Drake added some attention to her overall self, but people walked away from the album pleased. And then Reason.
There You Have It was a re-release of a mixtape he made back in 2017 out of YouTube beats. However, with a TDE co-sign he burst onto the scene in the summer and made it very clear why he is signed to arguably the best label in the game currently. His personal storytelling, perspective, and humility are felt in excess over the course of his album.
These four are ready to dine with the adults and contribute to the Thanksgiving meals for years to come. It’s time to trade their superhero dinnerware in for the fine china.
Thanksgiving is definitely a lot. A lot of things have to come together for the meal to be great, and 2018 has felt like a blessed time provided by those we love. I’m thankful for the bars, the melodies, the Tweets, and even the beefs. Everyone have a happy holiday and go easy on the gravy. Dressing is fair game.
Originally published at https://www.elevatormag.com on November 22, 2018.