Jay-Z / The Blueprint 3 / Atlantic
On his latest release Jay-Z has the audacity to claim “I just got ten number one albums / maybe now eleven,” it would be a little irritating if it wasn’t probably true. He’s got the best production in the game today, including – on various tracks – Kanye West, The Neptunes, and Timbaland; he’s got some of the biggest name collaborators today (Young Jeezy, Kanye West, Rhianna, Alicia Keys); and he’s still got a knack for consistently entertaining and cold-blooded one liners. On “Empire State of Mind (Featuring Alicia Keys)”, Jay-Z makes a love letter to his home city of New York that’s far more inspiring than many other attempts at that old cliché. More impressive though, is the chronology he presents on “A Star is Born (Featuring J. Cole)” of all the faces in the modern hip-hop yearbook from Eminem to Ludacris, from Nelly to Lil Wayne. Not a verbal diss is handed out for the entire sincere track. There are a couple of tracks that fizzle, or that seem to fade into the shadows behind more obvious hits, but can you really expect perfection from someone who’s been retired as long as Jay-Z has?
Download: “Empire State of Mind (Feat. Alicia Keys)”, “A Star is Born (Feat. J. Cole)”, “Run This Town (Feat. Rihanna & Kanye West)”
Kid Cudi / Man On The Moon: The End Of Day / Universal
The man touted as Kanye West’s new protégé is receiving much hype for his first studio album, and nothing short of revolutionary things are expected of him and his music. Breezing through the track list, his debut album Man On The Moon: The End of Day does in fact seem rather ambitious. It’s divided into 5 sections, and aims at telling the story of a man and a mushroom trip. Cudi has soul, and slick production behind him, but when you strip away the Kanye West production credits, and the presence of electro-duo Ratatat, then you’re left with some middle-of-the-road R&B. The cerebral Cudi is sure to have greater appeal to weed and shroom-using hip-hop fans than some of his cocaine-slinging comrades, but contemporary alternative hip-hop is not lacking in talent (K’naan and Shad K are too notable Canucks in this field). Cudi will have to step up his game in the future if he wants to live up to the hype of his collaborators.
Download: “CuDi Zone”, “Hyyerr (featuring Chip Tha Ripper)”
Nelly Furtado / Mi Plan / Universal
It may surprise some to learn that Portuguese-Canadian singer-songwriter Nelly Furtado is not just bi-lingual, but, as this entirely Spanish album proves, tri-lingual. It’s certainly not an awkward crossover for Furtado, who somehow manages to sound more confident than in any of her previous non-Timbaland efforts. Naturally, Spanish influences, especially that unmistakable guitar style, pepper the album, but, perhaps encouraged by her forays into the Top 40, Furtado also makes sure electronic synths turn up here and there. Multiple Juno-winning Cuban-Canadian artist Alex Cuba lends vocals on the title track, adding even more credibility to an already exceptional effort from Mrs. Furtado.
Download: “Mi Plan”, “Baja Otra Luz”
Drake / So Far Gone / Universal
Until recently, the biggest musical sensation to come out of the halls of Degrassi was The Zit Remedy’s 1989 hit “Everybody Wants Something.” Drake, formerly better known as Jimmy Brooks from Degrassi: The Next Generation, has taken this crown from the Zits with ease. Though he hasn’t yet released a full-length album, Drake has dropped a couple singles on the world that have gotten noticed by people like Jay Z and Kanye West. The So Far Gone EP includes these singles (“Best I Ever Had” and “Successful (feat. Trey Songz and Lil Wayne)”) plus five more tracks. “Best I Ever Had” shows confidence and a sense of humour, and as long as his hype continues to pull strings for him (Kanye West directed the “Best I Ever Had” video) things look up for young Drake. That is, as long as he can avoid mishaps like his ill-timed performance of the raunchy hit single in the middle of the somber Michael Jackson tribute-themed BET awards that saw him propped up on a stool due to a leg injury. Those are the kinds of stories one-hit wonders are made of.
Download: “Best I Ever Had”, “I’m Goin’ In (feat. Lil Wayne and Young Jeezy)”