Jackson Howard: A hip-hop summer in review

By Jackson Howard, Daily Hip-Hop Columnist
Published September 12, 2013

Now that everyone has more or less survived the tornado that is welcome week, it’s time to get back to business. Summer 2013 proved to be one of the most memorable in hip-hop history. Kanye West, Jay-Z, Big Sean, J. Cole and countless more released attention-grabbing projects, while Kendrick Lamar set the hip-hop world on fire with his lyrical onslaught “Control” verse. Even as the summer officially winds down, though, hip hop continues to make news. I’ve included here a couple of the bigger topics over the last couple weeks to keep you updated. Recognize.

Drake and the buildup to Nothing Was the Same

Following in the footsteps of Jay-Z and Kanye, Drake has been ultra tight-lipped about his upcoming album, Nothing Was the Same, set to release Sept. 24. As the date approaches, however, details have started to appear. The excellent, ’80s-wedding-sounding second single “Hold On, We’re Going Home” finds Drake harkening back to his “Find Your Love” sound, while the street single, “All Me,” with 2 Chainz and Big Sean is boasting at its finest.

Still, as a secretly die-hard Drake fan (I love his music, but at points, he’s just too easy to hate), I’m worried that NWTS can’t live up to Drake’s last album, the momentous Take Care. On that record, Drake somehow managed to pour his heart out without being cheesy, effectively making up for his mediocre debut. Take Care was genuine, dark, cohesive and epic. I mean, come on, the album cover is Drake sitting pensively and somewhat sadly alone at a table holding a goblet.

So far, Nothing Was the Same has been true to its name: Almost nothing resembles Take Care. And this is great, but is it wrong to want “Headlines” instead of “Started From the Bottom,” or to feel somewhat skeptical when the album artwork is an oil painting of baby Drake facing old Drake against a light, blue sky? This is a classic case of judging a book by its cover, I know. Then again, artists will — and should — evolve. The tracklist for Nothing Was the Same shows features from only Detail and Jay-Z, a promising sign that Drake’s lyrical ability will shine more this time around. There’s a song called, “Wu-Tang Forever,” which makes me want to squeal, and the opening track, “Tuscan Leather,” supposedly flips the same Whitney Houston sample three different times, once for each verse.

Challenged by up-and-comers and given the spotlight by veterans, Drake is in the prime of his career and the top of his game. Let’s hope he pulls through. Who knows? In a few years, Nothing Was the Same could be the start of an epic sentence ending with, “after Drake released his third album.”

Lil Wayne releases Dedication 5

As someone who appreciates quality hip hop, I have a really hard time enjoying Lil Wayne’s recent string of abysmally bad music. This year’s I Am Not a Human Being II was a nail in the coffin of sorts for Wayne’s standing as a legitimate rapper. I actually had to take multiple breaks in between songs to process the vulgarity of Wayne’s lyrics.

Where Wayne has always shined, however, is on mixtapes. From the legendary Da Drought series to the prequels of Dedication 5, Wayne has a knack for picking the best beats around and absolutely spazzing. On Dedication 5, Wayne manages to avoid regressing even further, which, at this point, should be deemed a victory.

The tape is 29 songs, which is about 15 songs too many, but it’s clear that Wayne is serious about rapping again. The Weeknd shows up for a classic feature on the opening track, while T.I. kills three separate songs. The best appearance, though, goes to Chance The Rapper, who, as of right now, has early-Drake-level hype surrounding him. His whimsical rhymes and nasally flow on “You Song” make the track a highlight and, surprisingly, Wayne keeps up. It’s easy to see Wayne’s influence on Chance’s style, and I can only imagine the excitement Chance felt when he got a phone call requesting him to be on the tape.

OK, so yay for Lil Wayne. But a much bigger question remains: How is Lil Wayne going to continue to grow? So far, his attempts at changing have been painfully clear: releasing a rock album, signing everybody and their mother to his label and even becoming a skateboarder. Wayne’s one-time contemporaries, Kanye West, Jay-Z and, even to an extent, Rick Ross, have all noticeably evolved their art in attempts to be groundbreaking or, at least, relevant. Wayne has done no such thing; in fact, his two most famous protégés, Nicki Minaj and Drake, have already eclipsed him in growth.

Lil Wayne isn’t going away (even though he could probably die any day), but sooner than later a time is going to come when people stop caring. Wake up, Weezy. The game isn’t yours anymore.

Finally, my favorite songs of the summer I’m still playing in a vain attempt to recapture the magic of the past four months

1. Big Sean, “Beware” feat. Lil Wayne & Jhene Aiko
2. Ciara, “Body Party”
3. Drake, “Hold On, We’re Going Home” feat. Majid Jordan
4. Drake, “The Motion” feat. Sampha
5. Earl Sweatshirt, “Sunday” feat. Frank Ocean
6. Fantasia, “Without Me” feat. Kelly Rowland & Missy Elliott
7. J. Cole, “Forbidden Fruit” feat. Kendrick Lamar
8. Kanye West, “Bound 2” feat. Charlie Wilson
9. Wale, “Bad” feat. Tiara Thomas