Curated for each issue of Content by Universal Grammar, Album Picks are highlights of recent music releases by some of Universal Grammar’s favorite artists. These picks read less like reviews and more like contextual introductions to each artist and their work: they aim to explore the cultural impact of the release itself in 300 words or less.
—Caroline Beleno of Universal Grammar
Groove Curse EP
The Groove Curse EP by Australia-based Jordan Rakei was a late August 2014 release. All songs are produced, recorded, arranged, and mixed by Jordan Rakei. Doing due diligence to the Universal Grammar sound, this EP, as well as other works of Mr. Rakei’s, have held a spot in my rotation. This is quintessential, timeless listening for the modern-era head-nodder who prefers the vocal stylings of Marvin and D’Angelo over that solid Dilla-esque swing. The music is raw, vocal-driven groove.
Groove Curse features many collaborating artists, highlighted by guest vocalist Gwen Bunn on the record’s first track, “Street Light,” a neo-soul ballad depicting a scene when a person is feeling that special moment of enjoyment with a significant other and both are feeling it—“She was food for the soul.” Along with laying down the vocals and vocal arrangements, Jordan Rakei displays his artistic versatility and musicianship, playing synth bass, electric guitar, and grand piano throughout the five-song EP.
To Pimp a Butterfly LP
Look, I’m sure everyone has heard of the artist Kendrick Lamar and/or his latest album. For my personal responsibility to these album picks, if I look back on 2015 to find this was not one of the selections, I don’t think I could forgive myself. Having no expectations on the release of Kendrick’s sophomore LP release, To Pimp a Butterfly, I was thrilled for what was brought to my listening pleasure. This album is electric, musically, with its message of cultural commentary throughout. And the blending and fusing of jazz, funk, soul, and poetry into the hip-hop spectrum was done beautifully.
After taking the time to study the liner notes to align my initial assumptions with the facts of which musician or vocalist or producer was used on which track, I found a veritable feast—from Grammy winners Robert Glasper, Lalah Hathaway, and Pharrell to left-field musicians like Thundercat and Terrace Martin influencing the game from another spectrum to vocalists like Anna Wise of Sonnymoon and Bilal doing the same. Legends Ronald Isley and George Clinton even guest-spot on this record, and last but not least, contributions from Flying Lotus and Snoop Dogg. To name a few. Whew! Artistically, this is a record well-curated, with a modern understanding of who is really making good music. Whether this record is a masterpiece, only time will tell. At least Kendrick threw out conventional wisdom to take a chance that I, for my part, can be thankful for. Take his journey on To Pimp a Butterfly, and if anything, come away with knowledge of the voices of influencers in this current generation of music.
If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late
A Place Like This EP
I’d like to first highlight the label on which these artists and albums reside, Canadian-based record label OVO Sound. OVO stands for “October’s Very Own,” founded by rapper Drake and producer Noah “40” Shebib in a joint venture with Warner Bros. The label features a stable of producers, overseers, and artists. Favorites not mentioned in this write-up include ILoveMakonnen and Big Boi. The label currently is responsible for three records in Universal Grammar’s rotation.
The first project, PARTYNEXTDOOR’s PARTYNEXTDOOR TWO, was a sleeper in 2014. The second, Drake’s recent “mixtape” If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late, is a project that needs to be taken a little more seriously. Due to contractual issues with Reading released on iTunes, it’s considered his fourth studio album for Cash Money Records. However, for all intents and for the purposes of this post, it’s a project that has come out of this OVO era of music making. The third is Majid Jordan’s A Place Like This EP.
Of these three projects, we are most excited about Majid Jordan, a Canadian duo consisting of Majid Al Maskati and Jordan Ullman. Late in 2014, the duo released the five-song EP A Place Like This on the OVO imprint. This EP exemplifies why I am so excited about the future of this label’s sound. The duo was featured on, and co-produced, the 2013 hit “Hold On, We’re Going Home” off Drake’s Nothing Was the Same, and they seem to have influenced the overall sound of the track. Like that track, A Place Like This reveals a mix of downtempo, contemporary, bassy grooves with elements of deep house and nu disco. On top, the duo laid creamy R&B-flavored vocals. Try this five-song EP on for size first, and I also encourage the exploration of the catalog of current OVO projects as a whole. It will reveal something that has me excited about the future of this label, and the contributions Majid Jordan will bring to it in 2015. Props to Drake and his “patna” 40 for a well-curated stable of artists—“far from over.”
Choose Your Weapon LP
Yes, we did cover this group in the last issue with regards to their EP By Fire. Since that time, their new LP dropped. When a new project matches its own hype and anticipation with a “blow em’ out of the water” effort, well, it gets covered in back-to-back issues, ’nuff said. With an effortless display of funk, soul, jazz, and electronic elements, this record is thick with sonic depth. Hiatus Kaiyote is another jewel of the Australian continent. Some very beautiful music is being produced in that region of the world, and it is on full display on Hiatus Kaiyote’s newly released LP, Choose Your Weapon. The obvious influence of American music has been dutifully shown its proper respect. Nai Palm is a gifted vocalist, and with this record has reached new heights in her vocal prowess. As well as growth and maturity from the band, this is exactly what I like to see in artists from one record to the next. No disappointment here, and as for featuring them in back-to-back issues—I have no reservations. I have received no payment from the HK marketing team and/or management. Go cop this, and see them live.
Picks by Thomas Aguilar: Tommy has been presenting and promoting artists, DJs, and musicians from all over the globe in his hometown and other parts of the Bay for 15 plus years under the moniker Universal Grammar. Under the nom de plume “Charle Brown,” he shares his mix of global groove, soul, R&B, jazz, electronic, hip hop, funk, house, and Latin to his hometown audience, San Jose.
7.2 Album Picks Playlist