Metal Band Deafheaven Picks 2015’s Biggest Rap Albums
2013 was the year of Kayne’s Yeezus, Chance the Rapper’s Acid Rap, Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories, and Beyoncé’s surprise self-titled record. But the best-reviewed album of that year didn’t come from chart-topper or a festival headliner. It was Sunbather, the sophomore record from black metal outfit Deafheaven. The quick rise to prominence for vocalist George Clarke and guitarist Kerry McCoy, and critical adulation from circles that typically ignore metal music, kickstarted a wave of philosophizing within the genre. Is Deafheaven authentic metal, or are they just posers? Should metal musicians be conventionally attractive?
To their credit, Clarke and McCoy responded in the best possible way: ignored the questions as best they could, and focused on making another divisive, can’t-miss album. New Bermuda, out this Friday, is a defiant refusal to apologize, protecting territory originally scraped together with countless nights rehearsing in an illegal San Francisco bunkhouse. It’s another sprawling, ambient melding of brash metal and post-rock boundary-pushing. But unlike Sunbather, which meted out brief pauses for listeners to catch a breath, New Bermuda folds them into the album’s five tracks, making each building wave of sound inseparable from its crash.
But metal’s not the only genre where authenticity and outward appearance are also big discussion topics: hip-hop. And Clarke and McCoy are huge hip-hop fans. Over the course of a half-hour conversation, they name-checked Nef the Pharaoh’s “Big Tymin,’”, Cities Aviv’s “No GMO,” AR-Ab, and Peewee Longway. So rather than ask them the same inane questions for the umpteenth time, we thought, why not ask them to review the year’s notable rap albums?
Clarke and McCoy are quick to point out that since they were recording during the first half of they year, they missed a lot—but you wouldn’t know it.
Kendrick Lamar, To Pimp A Butterfly
George Clarke: When that record came out, I was in the midst of writing New Bermuda with everybody, and listened to it one night while I was staying at my friend’s house on his couch. I was really amazed with how gutsy of a move that record is, and also blown away by how dense it was. I only listened to that record through one time back then, and I’ve heard the singles and stuff, and re-listened to bits of it, but I remember thinking, god, this is a lot of record.
Kerry McCoy: Obviously, one of the most admirable parts of it is just the production is so busy. It’s cool, because there’s more of a jazzy, live-band feel, and it definitely doesn’t shy away from that. I also like that there are singles, but while they have hooks and stuff, it’s much more of an album listen. Even the idea of making a video for “For Free?”—it’s so funny. I think in a way, he recognizes that apart from what they did remix into singles, he can do whatever he wants with it. He can make a video of any song ’cause it’s an album, not so much a collection of singles, which is what many modern rap albums are. It seemed like that album was like, “I’m gonna do this, and you can either be on board or not. If you don’t get it, then I’m not worried about it.” It paid off, it was a pretty successful record.
Vince Staples, Summertime ’06
KM: I know surface-level stuff about it. I like the “Senorita” single. “Norf Norf” is a really cool song. I heard “Blue Suede” before I heard this record, and I was like, damn, this is a tight kid. First of all, Vince Staples can actually rap, which is surprisingly scarce nowadays. And he raps in that classic way, like we were talking about before, that classic, almost Death Row vibe. A lot of syllables and words in each bar, not like Twista or Bone Thugs, he’s hitting just enough in there. It’s not your typical trap production, or even West Coast production. From what I’ve gathered from it, he’s definitely doing his own thing.
Drake, If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late
KM: That record is probably one of my favorites this year, so far.
GC: It’s great. Kerry loved it right off the bat, and it took me a little bit of getting used to. Drake with his formal albums—he did sell this one, but I’ll call it a mixtape—there’s a bit of a narrative to it, and there’s lots of key interludes that play in the overall sequence of the record and they’re always really well-rounded. I felt that this, in part because it’s a mixtape, was sort of just a collection of songs. That being said, I think a lot of the songs are really strong. I ended up growing to love it. Kerry was like, no, this is one of the best things he’s done, but it took me a little while to ease into it. I love it now.
KM: I got it like the day it came out, the night he dropped it. Me and my girlfriend got some wine and just listened to it. It’s one of those records where almost every song on the record has been my favorite song on the record at some point. Obviously, when I first heard “Know Yourself,” I was like, blown away by that. “Energy” is a great song, “Ten Bands,” “Madonna”—I went through a phase where I listened to “Madonna” like almost every day. That’s so awesome about [Canadian producer] 40, in general, is he approaches production like a songwriter, like a musician. So many of the songs—“Star 67” is like that, “Know Yourself”—He switches the beat up halfway through, but it works perfectly. He transitions things. The way he does it is impressive to me. Nothing Was the Same was another one of my favorite records of 2013. That’s a little more triumphant, like he’s stoked off of everything, but it’s also a little bit more brooding. This record is almost like a glimpse into his life. Like, I’ve tied for biggest rapper in the world, and I know it, but here’s also what it’s like to be me. Like with “Madonna,” whoever that’s about, he’s had his own little narratives about women, but I love the vibe of the record. It almost reminds me of “5AM In Toronto,” how it’s just him flexing and talking about how tight it is to be him. But he does it in such a realistic way. He doesn’t just talk about abstract things, like an insane amount of cars or whatever. He knows the prices of weird things, or he’ll describe how long it takes for him to get somewhere from his house, he throws all these little details in there that I love. That’s part of what makes Drake one of my favorite rappers.
Meek Mill, Dreams Worth More Than Money
KM: I got into that record before all that [Drake vs. Meek beef] stuff happened. The intro to Dreams and Nightmares, his 2012 record, was legendary. People were saying it was a seminal moment for hip hop, when that beat switches up and just goes into the hard 808s. I loved Dreams. Sampling “Lacrimosa,” by Mozart, for the first song, that was super tight. As a musician, it bugs me a little bit that people sample stuff that’s not in 4/4, and then put a 4/4 verse or beat over it, because “Lacrimosa” is in waltz time and he’s kind of rapping over the instrumental. It bugs my brain. But all of that kind of went away just because of how hard it hits when it hits. And the part that bummed me out the most about the whole Drake thing was, “R.I.C.O.” is such a good song. I loved that song when I first heard it. The things I love most about hip-hop are those cool little punchlines, creative ways to talk about how tight his life is or whatever. “Today I woke up with my dream girl, she’s rich as a Beatle.” That was so tight. And then “Check” and “Been That,” those are the tracks I would put on from that record when you want to listen to it while drinking before going out at night, when you just want to feel like the man. I also sent “All Eyes on You,” the Facebook video, to my girlfriend, when it came out. It bummed me out when Meek said that shit, because I also love Drake. I kind of took Drake’s side on that whole thing, and it pained me, because they’re two people I don’t even know.
GC: [Drake’s] “Back 2 Back” was like the one.
KM: Yeah, “Back to Back” was tight. It kind of overshadowed Meek’s record, and Meek’s record is pretty good. He yells a lot, but I like that.
GC: I thought that was the most disappointing part, too. While the album did get a lot of focus on its release, it could still be doing that, but instead it’s sidetracked by all the unnecessary stuff that surrounds it.
Future, Dirty Sprite 2
KM: I’ve yet to really delve into it, but George and our bass player Steven have been all over that record.
GC: I love it. Actually, Steven and I were driving with our friend Sad Andy, who DJs for Antwon, and we were going to the LACMA [LA County Museum of Art], and he was like, “Man, you haven’t heard this record? We have to listen to it.” So we listened to it the whole way through, and I’ve been steadily listening to it since then. “Thought It Was a Drought,” “I Serve the Bass,” “Groupies,” “Slave Master,” “Blow a Bag”—they’re all great songs. The craziest part about that record is that Metro Boomin does most of the production, but so many of the beats sound different from one another. Really laid back, heavy high-hat trap beats, but then there’s also these very uptempo almost electronic-influenced hip-hop beats on it as well. I know Zaytoven has some stuff on it. I think Future has a really cool, smokey, laid back way of rapping and singing.
A$AP Rocky, At.Long.Last.A$AP
KM: I did like that record. I liked Rocky when he first came out, and then that mixtape that he did, Live.Love.A$AP is the first one, I loved that. We listened to that so much when we were in the van on the way to SXSW 2012. And then we saw him there, and he had “Wassup” and all that great stuff, and then Long. Live. A$AP was a little bit of a disappointment to me, outside of like “Goldie” and “1 Train,” there wasn’t that much on there that I liked that much. But I totally dig this record. To me, what’s coolest about it is, like the Kendrick record, it’s kind of a ballsy move to me. With “L$D”–there’s a lot of stuff on there that’s not your most typical trappy stuff we know him for. He definitely seems like he made more of a New York sounding record, almost like a New York on drugs kind of thing. It hasn’t stuck with me that much, but “Lord Pretty Flacko Jodye 2,” that’s essentially the go-to banger on it, and “Holy Ghost,” that’s kind of risky stuff that he does on it.
GC: It definitely has some tracks. “Holy Ghost,” “Fine Whine,” “LSD.” But I listened to it a couple times all the way through when it first came out, but I think it was during a time when we were writing or something and I wasn’t soaking a lot of other albums in.
Dr. Dre, Compton
KM: I downloaded that record while we were at LAX waiting for a flight [to Montreal]. My thoughts on it at first, not that I would ever doubt Dr. Dre, but it seems like he waits 10 years to put out a record each time. Part of me was like, “I wonder if this is going to suck. Is this still going to be a relevant rap record?” And to me, it sounds like the updated version of classic Dre. That intro literally sounds—and I read an interview where he said this is what he’s trying to do—it sounds like a movie is opening up. All the cool cinematic music, and then the narrator’s voice, and I love how it bridges and slowly fades into that opening sample, almost like a movie sample. And when that beat kicks in on that second song it just hits you in the face. And I was like, damn, this such a good way to start a record out. He could’ve done that the whole record, but the next song and most of the record after that is pretty solidly classic Dr. Dre sounding stuff. I love that Xzibit’s on there. I’ve had friends who are kind of like rap snobs that are like, “who gives a fuck, he’s not relevant anymore.” And that’s fine, but to me, as someone who just likes music—and I liked 2001 when it came out, The Chronic was something that when I was a kid I grew up listening to it—to me it sounds like all that stuff that you love about that classic West Coast Dr. Dre G-Funk kind of thing, but not updated to the point where he’s like trying to grasp at relevance. He’s still got the same dudes on there.
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