Introduction: For those of you that have stumbled across this website and are interested in reading about my trek through the universe of the Tidal streaming service, let me tell you a bit about what I did. Back in 2016 I thought it would be kind of cool to listen to an artist’s catalog from start to finish and rank them from best to worst. After all, who doesn’t like a good list? I thought I might do a few of them and see what happened, hoping it would introduce me to records that were foreign to me in the arsenal of an artist I was familiar with. I also thought that it would be pretty cool to get out of the “one off” mode of listening to a new record, years after the previous one, in order to get a true sense of how the artist matured over time. Fast forward to June of 2019 and 250 catalogs later, I ended the trek. I posted these all on Facebook over the years as they were completed but I’m going to move them all over here, starting with #1, in order to expand them out a bit more. Facebook doesn’t exactly allow for too many details.
As with all my catalogs, to be considered in the ranking, an album has to meet certain criteria:
The artist must actually perform on 80% of the tracks (soundtrack and rap provision)
No compilations of previous released material will be included.
However, compilations of previously recorded material will be included if they are remixes, bonus tracks, outtakes… mostly music that hasn’t been part of a main release before.
The album must have been released officially and within the realm of the label that the artist would have been on at the time or official releases posthumously (normally applies to a slew of live records)
Any EPs must contain new new music and be relevant to the catalog, not be more like a single with a b-side or two.
Entrance Point: I had heard Illmatic but not much else other than few singles here and there, so this was nearly a blind catalog for me.
Included:Distant Relatives – his album with Damian Marley, his album with Foxy Brown, AZ and Nature under the name The Firm.
Not included: Nas’ three mixtapes. I don’t include mixtapes in most of these. It is what it is.
All albums ranked on a 10 point scale:
Hip hop the way Hip Hop should be done, right here folks. If you give a shit about Nas and you’re reading this post, well then you already know this is a stone cold classic. There are so many great hits on this disc from “One Love” to “It Ain’t Hard To Tell” with its memorable sample of Michael Jackson’s “Human Nature” and “The World Is Yours.” But this is a great look at why old school hip-hop was so good. Ten songs, 40 minutes, no filler, AZ on one track and Q-Tip on another but otherwise, no guest stars taking up half the album and killer beats from the first note. I’ve always been a fan of the album and especially “N.Y. State of Mind,” and it surely goes down as one of the best pure hip-hop records of all time.
It Was Written (9.5)
When you come out of the gate with a classic, it’s hard to live up to that and a lot of people think Nas has never had another good record – even Jay-Z in his dis track, “Takeover” admits that Illmatic was great but Nas had a “one hot album in every ten year average,” but in the end, I disagree. Nothing is matching the debut, for sure but It was Written was the follow up and is pretty great in its own right. It’s different from the rawness on Illmatic. Nas made a conscious decision to focus on more commercial beats and get hits amongst the Snoops, Puffys and others that were all over radio. You can hear that on “Street Dreams” which obviously had the memorable sample of “Sweet Dreams (are Made of This) by the Eurythmics and the Nas song that has still stood the test of time, “If I Ruled the World” featuring Ms. Lauryn Hill. He also started adding more guests here, Foxy Brown, Dr. Dre, Havoc, JoJo (from KC & Jojo) etc…, which worked well here but after this he would do a record as The Firm and that’s where it all went haywire.
God’s Son (8.5)
Outside of the debut, Nas’ latest release as of this post, 2018’s NASIR is the most interesting of his releases. Interesting because it really doesn’t sound like a Nas record. There are only a handful of hip-hop producers that I can say really have a distinguishable sound. It used to be people like Master P and Diddy. Then Dr. Dre and Timbaland and while those guys don’t do as much now, there’s three very active that have “a sound” – Pharrell, RZA and Kanye. And this one is a Kanye record. When Kanye first got in the production game, I don’t think he stood out but these days, there’s a pretty consistent sound. Almost an alternative rap, heavy use of pianos and really quick repetitive vocal samples and a strong presence of a choir or at least choir like vocals on many songs. And that’s what comes into play here. Nas is of course the featured rapper but this very much plays like a Kanye West record since he produced all the tracks and is featured on most of them and because it’s a short 7-track, 26 minute record, you get that burst of Kayne with no real time to change back to a typical Nas sound. But, it’s also a really good album. So it’s kind of a weird record in my mind. “Cops Shot the Kid” was one of my favorite rap songs of 2018, but Kanye’s rap totally outshines Nas. I took off a half point for Kanye’s overwhelming presence.
I Am… (8)
Hip Hop Is Dead (8)
Hip Hop is Dead came out in 2006 and was Nas’ 8th record, after a bunch of critical duds and a lot of people feeling he fell off. There was a lot of controversy around this one due to the name and the connotation behind it. The southern hip-hop community took offense to the record because they believed that Nas was taking a shot at them for what he deemed as fake rap and styles that were destroying rap. This of course came from a guy that was no longer really popular at the time, which made it even worse. And then weirdly enough of all the guests on the album, Jay-Z appeared on “Black Republican” – only years after taking shots at Nas in “Takeover.” Kanye produced that song and he’s got a verse on “Still Dreaming,” so I guess all was forgiven. A lot of rappers took offense to the record and it sure didn’t help that is was a mediocre one at that. But it was only the Nas record that was even on my radar at any point after Illmatic because of this.
Street’s Disciple (7.5)
Life is Good (7)
Distant Relatives (w/ Damian Marley) (7)
Further along in this trek, I do a catalog on the entire Marley family so this album was intriguing to me and while it’s listenable, it’s also pretty disappointing. Like the NASIR album above, this also doesn’t feel like a Nas record. This is a collaboration with Damian Marley but it’s a reggae album first and foremost and although Nas gets top billing on the album, Jr. Gong usually gets the first verse on each song and the chorus, so it definitely sounds like a Marley record with Nas guesting. I have no problem with that but the tracks are just pretty dull in the end, which is really the whole reason for it being so low on the list. The first single and lead track on the record is “As We Enter,” which is an upbeat hip-hop track that sounds a lot like something that RZA would have given to Ghostface for one of his solo records. But it’s a tease as that’s the only song on the record that has that vibe. The rest is reggae and apart from one other track (“Dispear”), Nas sounds out of place. I really think Nas has a great flow but it doesn’t fit with reggae. These tracks are mid-tempo, laid-back, ganja smoking tunes and Nas’ flow is a bit harsh for that. It’s good enough for a solid once through but in the end it seems more forced than natural.
It’s week 29 of ’19. I’m downloading records on Tidal based on name recognition or album covers that intrigue me, only. Some artists I have a history with and some I’ve never heard of. This is how I discover as I trek through the new music landscape.
Album: The Lion King: The Gift
Previous knowledge: N/A
Review: This is an interesting release as it’s not actually a soundtrack to the Lion King (as that also does exist) but rather songs inspired by the movie. It’s credited as a Beyonce record, with most songs produced by African artists. Not counting interludes, there’s a total of 14 songs on the record, with Queen Bey performing on 10 of them. The album also features a variety of African musicians as well as Jay-Z, Kendrick Lamar, Major Lazer, Childish Gambino, Pharrell and more. And of course what would a record like this be without narration from James Earl Jones!
Beyonce has labeled this as a “visual album,” one in which the listener is supposed to be able to visualize the story line in their head. That’s not how my brain seems to work though as the only thing I get in my head when I listen to this are waterfalls from the running water in some of the interludes. But the songs do cross quite a few genres, with a lot of African rhythms mixed with R&B and hip-hop. It does figure of course that the best tune on the record is “Mood 4 Eva” which is Beyonce, Jay-Z and Childish Gambino produced by DJ Khalid and Just Blaze, so one of only a handful of tracks not produced by an African artist. But the African hip-hop tune “Water” featuring Salatiel and Pharrell is also a highlight (and it’s not actually produced by Pharrell) as is “Brown Skin Girl” featuring Saint Jhn and Wizkid.
Overall, it’s a fantastic record and really why wouldn’t it be? Beyonce’s going to end up being the best female artist of this generation (if not one of the best overall artists) and it’s because of albums like this. This isn’t some half-assed attempt with strategic pop songs to ensure radio play. This feels very authentic to the theme she laid out before all of us and also isn’t one of those records where a superstar tosses their name on something but really had very little to do with it. This is the type of record that makes Beyonce what she is today – and that’s a transcendent superstar.
Album: Iggy Azalea – In My Defense
Previous knowledge: All her singles
Review: It seems amazing that I’m following up a Beyonce record with a new one from Iggy Azalea as it’s like night and day here but I don’t order these posts in any way other than the order I listen to the albums in and that’s as random as whatever order they are in on the Tidal new album list.
Though I’ve been making fun of Azalea for years I still like to think I’m able to listen to this without too much prejudice but it’s clear from the start that I don’t need any to find In My Defense as ridiculous as expected. The album title seems to be in reference to all the claims that she’s racist. The fact that she feels the need to call out that she’s not, all over the record, including on “Clap Back” which is specifically about that, doesn’t help her situation, nor does what always feels like a fake hip-hop accent, nor that due to plastic surgery she now looks like one of the Wayans brothers in White Chicks.
There are two topics on this record. A) You hatin’ bitch but fuck that, I’m the shit (“Thanks I Get” “Clap Back” “Started” and B) I got a fat ass and a vagina and we’re going to screw (“Hoemita,” “Freak of the Week,” “Just Wanna,” “Pussy Pop”). I hear nothing else. It’s been a steep nose dive down since “Fancy” hit #1 five years ago but at least she’s been pretty consistent over the years as it was pretty obvious what she was going to rap about on this record. Let’s take a look at some of the more sophisticated prose on the disc:
” Can you come and lay some pipe? ‘Cause my shit leakin'”
“Your face like a litter box, I put the pussy right on it”
“Been on my shit, ’bout to twerk on this dick, with my tongue out like Jordan”
“Drop down, bust it open / wet, wet got that Pacific Ocean / Chuck E. Cheese me, please give me a token / If you want me to fuck it up like it’s broken”
“Make him lick it ‘fore he stick it since he hungry like a hippo”
“I grabbed his hard drive and then I hacked that motherfucker”
Next record, I’m just going in knowing that it’s going to be a record about screwing and maybe this won’t be nearly as lame. Well, okay, it will be.
Album: Willow – Willow
Previous knowledge: “Whip My Hair”
Review: So Willow is 18, her brother Jaden is 21 and both are now some oddball adult musicians. They are certainly not making “Miami” and “Will 2K” like daddy, Will Smith. Let’s be honest with each other here – you can try to say that both Jaden and Willow would have gotten a shot on their individual talents alone but face it, I’m listening to this because it’s Will Smith’s daughter. And I listen to Jaden’s records because he’s Will Smith’s son. And they both have the freedom to make odd, rarely straightforward, very experimental music because of their family lineage. No, of course I don’t know the family and I don’t know what it’s like to be part of a celebrity household but I’m pretty sure I can understand some of the perks that are provided and a record like this seems to be one of them.
This is the third full album from Willow, if you can call an 8-track, 22 minute record a full length, like it’s being billed. And it’s different for sure. I can’t pin this to one particular genre, hell, maybe to a genre at all. For the first six tracks, it’s a weird concoction of trippy atmospheric folk with an R&B touch now and again. The seventh track (“U Know”) features a heavily distorted rap by her brother which feels really out of place on whatever avant-garde, off-beat bullshit this tune is. Then the album closes with “Overthinking IT” which is a 5+ minute R&B/Reggae tune that sounds completely different from the rest of the record.
The worst part of this record are Willow’s vocals. From moment #1 feel like I’m listening to the incoherent wail of Yoko Ono. I think back to my college radio days where I would get a CD in an envelope, with a CD-R inside and some kind of cover art from a home printer and would listen just to make fun of it. Half the tunes feel like incomplete demos, though they certainly aren’t. I feel like 90% of artists wouldn’t make it to their next record after releasing something this off-the-wall but Willow likely has as much leverage as she really wants to put out whatever, whenever.
Album: Nas – The Lost Tapes 2
Previous knowledge: All his albums
Review: I know Nas is a legendary rapper and in 2019, I’m always up for new music from one of the best in the game but sometimes things that are lost are shoved under the rug for a reason. The Lost Tapes 2 consists of 16 tracks that didn’t make other albums. The record has been in the works since 2003, so some of these tracks could go back pretty far (again, part of the problem with digital releases is that I have no liner notes to see when each of these are from) and some are certainly newer but overall it’s pretty easy to see what these were on the cutting room floor. That’s not to say that any of these tracks are really bad tunes but they don’t have the same punch that standard Nas records have had over the years.
Of the standout tracks though, is “Jarreau of Rap” actually featuring the Al Jarreau, whom I would guess would be the Jarreau of Soul. Nas actually points out in the track how people get on him for failing to take chances and this was certainly one of them, with a very off-kilter jazzy backbeat on the track. There’s also “Tanasia” produced by RZA, having an unmistakable RZA sound (as does “Highly Favored.”)
But there’s also awkward tracks like “You Mean the World To Me” which was produced by Kanye West and has to be a tune from recent years since it has that Life of Pablo-like odd keyboard rhythm and is way too busy, similar to a lot of recent Yeezy tracks.
If nothing else though, listen for the Pete Rock produced “QueensBridge Politics” which is vintage sounding Nas. Otherwise, interesting to hear what didn’t make the cut for his records but it’s very easy to see why.
Album: Scott Stapp – The Space Between the Shadows
Previous knowledge: All Creed releases and his solo records
Review: Well, I have to admit that I’m having a hard time not simply making fun of this record for what it is – and that is a 1999 alt rock record from the arrogant former leader of Creed. The only reason I can think of as to why in 2019, Scott Stapp is releasing an album with the exact same sound of Creed circa 1999 is that it’s all he really knows. And I guess sometimes you stick with what you’re good at, even if it sounds dated before it even hits the digital stores. I do understand a lot of the self-righteous, arrogant dickwad stories that have floated around the internet over the years were likely caused by both him being bi-polar and many years of substance abuse. He also tried to commit suicide in 2006, so the fact that he’s still around, is triumphant unto itself and I give him credit for that. But I’m not reviewing how his sobriety is going.
The Space Between the Shadows is exactly what you’d expect. Hard rock songs and grandiose rock ballads just like you heard back in Creed. Lyrically, the vast majority of the record is about substance abuse, sobriety, rising up from the dead and survival (“Purpose for Pain” “Survivor” “Wake Up Call”) but while the message is current and unfortunately will likely always be universal, the hard rock tracks on the disc sound incredibly out of touch with rock music in 2019. Actually, the whole record does but rock ballads such as the ones on this disc tend to at least have a little more staying power than most. Then there’s “Gone Too Soon” which is the type of song that always befuddles me a bit. It’s an over-the-top almost U2 sounding mid-tempo track, created as a tribute to the fallen artists of the past few years and while I find the sentiment admirable, I often wonder if these tracks should really be included on albums or maybe just distributed within the industry, or one off singles…then again, a song like this that doesn’t actually name names, is also timeless.
Look. The end result here is that if you still happen to listen to Creed records, then there’s no reason you shouldn’t like this. This album should definitely resonate with survivors of suicide or people with addictions as well. I feel good for Scott Stapp as a person. But again, I review records and while there’s nothing terribly wrong with this album, it’s just incredibly late 90s and has been done before with Stapp, just with slightly different lyrics.
Album: Lingua Ignota – Caligula
Previous Knowledge: Collaborations with The Body
Review: If you want something a little different, here it is for you. Lingua Ignota (or “Unknown Language”) is one woman named Kristin Hayter. While this is her third album and first on the metal label, Profound Lore, I knew her from her collaborations with The Body on their album, I Have Fought Against It, but I Can’t Any Longer. She very much fits in the mold of that group. Varying instrumentation, improvised passages, wailing like a banshee from hell and various other things that scare the living shit out of you. This, her solo project is labeled as neoclassical dark wave or industrial noise but either way, you get a mix of ambient, classical, walls of noise and haunting darkness (“May Failure Be Your Noose”) bookended by loud, frantic screaming (“Do You Doubt Me Traitor.”) Her lyrics are about survival from abuse as she was physically and mentally abused at multiple points in her life. She uses her music to convey the message to believe the abused and not the abuser. It’s really hard to describe this record to someone without listening along but if you like experimental artists like John Zorn or Merzbow then this might be up your alley.
Album: Chloe MK – Fantasy
Previous knowledge: None
Review: I chose this album only due to the album cover, which looked pretty cool. I figured this was going to be one of two things – either an EDM record or a electro hip-hop album. It’s neither but not that far off. It also makes very little sense, which I will explain.
Chloe MK is actually Chloe Kohanski, the winner of season 13 of The Voice. That was back at the end of 2017 and this is a very short six-song EP, so it took a long while to get out. Also, she was on the show under her real name and decided to switch it up earlier this year, which also doesn’t seem like a great marketing trick. She has also publicly stated that she wants to bring rock and classic rock “back” into pop culture. Unless there’s something different coming in the future, this isn’t going to take care of that. Fantasy is an electropop record, not terribly far from a mix of Miley Cyrus, Ariana Grande or Taylor Swift’s angrier songs, though obviously she has a bit longer to go to be on their level. It’s a perfectly adequate EP that should get her on the radio and possibly make her a star but everything on this record has been done before and certainly doesn’t follow the path she seemingly wanted to take.
Album: Live – Throwing Copper (25th Anniversary Edition)
Previous knowledge: One of my favorite albums of the 90s.
Review: So with the 25th anniversary edition of Cracked Rear View from Hootie and the Blowfish earlier in the year, the impending release of the same for STP’s Purple and this, I feel really fucking old.
No matter how this album ages, Throwing Copper and Live as a band will always have a special place in my heart. Touring for this album back in 1994, they performed at the College of New Jersey (then Trenton State College) where I was a freshman at the time and these guys became my very first show. I rocked out to “I Alone” so many times in my dorm room that I’m sure my neighbors hated it after a while. And I remember the show having so much energy that I was exhausted afterwards. Setlist.fm tells me the concert was Nov. 29th, 1994 so that was after “I Alone” had become a major hit and just as “Lightning Crashes” was peaking. And even though I believe the opener was a group that had hits as well, I can’t remember who the hell they were as Live blew me out of the water. I also think that’s what made their follow up, Secret Samadhi and it’s brooding, dark vibe, so disappointing to me.
Throwing Copper is a beast of a record. Now that I’ve listened to a remastered version, it still is. Yes, a little dated as even something like “Lightning Crashes” feels very mid-90s but the record still stands up pretty well today. The singles were great but my favorite tunes were the three that closed out the record, “Waitress” “Pillar of Davidson” and “White, Discussion.” As for the additions for this re-release, there’s a rockin’ track called “Hold Me Up” which was in the Seth Rogen movie, Zack and Miri Make A Porno but didn’t make the soundtrack, “We Deal in Dreams” which was included on the Live, greatest hits comp in 2004 and “Susquehanna” which has the same general pace and feel of a track like “Pillar of Davidson.” Not exactly the most robust collection of new songs included here.
There’s also the “Woodstock, ’94” live disc that was either released at the same time or as a bonus disc with the re-release (I’m having issues confirming which here as they are separate on Tidal). This is a rare live release that really does seem to capture the energy of the band when they were on stage. This certainly takes me back to that first concert, listening to Ed Kowalczyk angrily tear through the “I Alone” chorus, the crowd believing “Shit Towne” was about the place they lived in and the controlled chaos of “Operation Spirit.”
While the standard bonus tracks really only need to be listened to by the most serious of Live fans, the Woodstock performance is worth a listen if you ever liked these guys at all.
Album: Tuxedo – Tuxedo III
Previous knowledge: None
Review: I’m not sure how a white, Jewish kid from Ann Arbor, Michigan creating vintage last 70’s and early 80’s funk and soul remained off my radar for so long… I keed, I keed – that’s exactly how. But he’s on it now. Tuxedo is the brainchild of Mayer Hawthorne who actually had a couple major label releases in the early 2010s and has now created three records pairing up with producer Jake One – who was one of the house producers for the G-Unit (you know, 50 Cent…). I will need to go back and listen to the other two Tuxedo records after this as Tuxedo III is brilliant.
The first thing I think of when I think modern white soul music is of course Justin Timberlake. This is not JT though they would pair up well. This is instead, remarkably catchy disco funk, apparently not sampled but rather created by Hawthorne as he didn’t want to have to pay royalties. I like to think that Chromeo is also creating throwback funk but this album is way more consistent and sharp than any album that duo has put together. This album is right out of Earth, Wind & Fire’s 1981 blueprint of funk, however, replacing the horns with synths. Or maybe a little Shalamar. Either way, I’m a sucker for this shit, through and through.
Album: Dorian Electra – Flamboyant
Previous knowledge: The history of the clitoris
Review: Do I have to explain the statement above at all? I don’t usually remember stuff like this but back in 2016, when someone posted a song about the history of the clitoris, you know, something like that just stuck in my brain. Well, that was from Dorian Electra. I had to read up a bit about them to understand what was happening here. So Electra is a non-binary performance artist and if you don’t know what non-binary actually means it’s that they don’t identify as any gender in particular and Electra uses “they/them pronouns” to identify themselves. I’m having a hard time understanding if this is their first album or not but either way, it’s fantastic. Flamboyant is definitely that – an over-the-top piece of electro-pop performance art. But it’s not campy at all and that’s where a lot of these types of records fall short. All the songs on this record contain incredibly catchy beats, modern electro with a bit of a retro feel as well. A track like “Man to Man” feels like it could have been made by Gwen Stefani, “Guyliner” by Katy Perry (well, musically it fits) while another, “Musical Genius,” is such a unique stroke of writing that Dorian is likely the only one that could have pulled it off. While I can’t identify with Electra’s themes on the record, I do identify with great music and Dorian Electra’s created one of the most enjoyable albums of the year.
Albums ranked 10/10 so far in 2019 (ordered only by release date)
Terror Jr. – Unfortunately, Terror Jr
Emily King – Scenery
Good Fuck – Good Fuck
The Claypool Lennon Delirium – South of Reality
UB40 – For the Many
Griz – Ride Waves
Pup – Morbid Stuff
Lizzo – Cuz I Love You
Howard Jones – Transform
Mavis Staples – We Get By
Prince – Originals
Yeasayer – Erotic Returns
Lukas Nelson and Promise of the Real – Turn off the News (Build a Garden)