A short glimpse of this summer in music

Five albums that defined summer 2021.

With life returning to a more or less normal shape, summer 2021 was an eventful one in every sphere of society. We as fans got to reap the fruits of what artists had been creating over the past year and a half of COVID-19.

The Off-Season – J. Cole

Released May 14, 2021

J. Cole’s The Off-Season was long awaited, and it did not disappoint. As one of the most praised figures in hip hop, this album is an improvement on all fronts from his last project, KOD. With his first release since 2018, J. Cole made his return to form with this project. It leaves behind any memory of KOD, a project that left fans and critics with mixed feelings. This project is bolstered by Cole’s confident and assured delivery, appealing storytelling, and the triumphant instrumentals using many samples throughout the album. The Off-Season marks the first time Cole welcomed different artists to feature on his songs since Born Sinner in 2013. This adds a new dimension to the work that was missing from his previous records.

Trial track: “l e t . g o . m y . h a n d”

SOUR – Olivia Rodrigo 

Released May 21, 2021

From a Disney star to one of pop’s most promising young talents, Olivia Rodrigo’s ascension to fame was immediate. The hype around SOUR was immense with all three of her singles reaching the Billboard’s top ten songs chart. Two of them even sat at the number one spot with the worldwide hits “drivers license” and “good 4 u.” On SOUR, listeners get a glance at a deep hurt. Tender lyrics of torn feelings towards an ex-lover make Rodrigo a compelling narrator and most of the record’s success is due to this. The instrumentals are most of the time either mellow and charming piano and guitar ballads, or Paramore-influenced bangers. As a whole, SOUR is one of the defining records of the summer.

Trial track: “good 4 u”

CALL ME IF YOU GET LOST – Tyler, The Creator 

Released June 25, 2021

Two years after his Grammy-winning masterpiece IGOR, Tyler, The Creator came back swinging. CALL ME IF YOU GET LOST marks The Creator’s sixth studio album, and brings him back to rapping form. DJ Drama is featured all across the record with ad libs in a DJ Khaled fashion, but Drama is actually pleasant. Tyler Baudelaire, his alter ego for this record, raps mainly about travel, and pinpoints love as the main thing missing from his life now that he has reached mogul status as an artist. The production is absolutely stunning, as you would expect from a Tyler, The Creator project. Tyler surpasses himself on every beat by always adding a lot of layers to the mix. This album contains a strong mix of hard-hitting tracks and laid-back beats that see an honest Tyler rely more on storytelling. No matter what direction he decided to go in, every track on the record found a way to keep it interesting for the listener.


Vince Staples – Vince Staples

Released July 9, 2021

Vince Staples waited until his fourth studio album to release a self-titled record, which was most appropriate considering this new project might be his most introspective body of work to date. Staples, known for being a curious name in hip hop, has a style that stands out from your average rapper. His past release, Big Fish Theory, flirted with the lines between hip hop and house music. On Vince Staples, he continues to stand above the pack with clever one-liners and by opening up about himself, which all makes for an inviting listening experience. Production-wise, Staples plays it pretty safe here by using basic yet captivating trap flavoured instrumentals. The record’s short length makes for an album that is easily approachable.

Trial track: “TAKE ME HOME”

Sling – Clairo

Released July 16, 2021

Sling now marks the first record since Clairo’s 2019 breakout debut album, Immunity. Sling is a complete departure from the sound that got her bursting onto the scene. This new album adopts more of a singer/songwriter approach, one that builds off of the gentle and languid sounds of her debut project. The album’s production comes from none other than Jack Antonoff, a renowned producer whose influence is likely responsible for this sudden change of pace. Antonoff does a great job at making the most of a talented Clairo, with sounds that complement and hug her strengths, tying listeners into the album. A large portion of Sling is dedicated to Clairo’s dog, Joanie, which is also the name for one of the tracks. Sling’s best quality is this level of intimacy, and while it is simple and not too flashy, this is in the best way possible. 

Trial track: “Amoeba”


Graphic by James Fay

Music Quickspins

QUICKSPINS: Big Sean – Detroit 2

The Motor City rapper’s latest highlights his personal and artistic growth, but suffers from a bloated tracklist.

Over the course of the last decade or so, Big Sean’s inconsistency has become the biggest hindrance to the quality of his projects. Historically, the Motor City rapper’s flashes of greatness have often been overshadowed by an abundance of corny punchlines and weak deliveries. Detroit 2 tries to correct this trend, as Sean is at his most refined — but while it makes for higher highs, it also makes the lows more apparent.

One of this album’s clearest strengths is Sean’s growth. It’s apparent that the man who made juvenile and shallow singles like “IDFWU” and “Dance (A$$)” has left those days behind him. In spending years meditating and reflecting, his newfound clarity and focus has also manifested in him becoming a much better rapper. Detroit 2 sees Sean improving lyrically and sees an exponential boost in his confidence on the mic, making him much more interesting to listen to.

The majority of the album’s tracks are his most mature to date as well, dealing with anxiety, depression, romance and emerging from his darkest period with a newfound sense of purpose. Songs like the Nipsey Hussle-assisted single “Deep Reverence” and “Everything That’s Missing” see Sean discussing his struggles with mental health and his lack of fulfillment despite his fame and accolades. There’s a level of introspection and depth present on this album that we’ve yet to see from Sean up to this point, and they result in some of the best songs in his catalogue.

Unfortunately, while the album does have a lot of quality tracks, a chunk of its songs range from mediocre to bad. “Friday Night Cypher” which features 10 of Detroit’s finest rappers, including Eminem, is a mixed bag, to say the least. With some jarring beat switches and some extremely phoned-in guest contributions, it’s a jumbled mess even with its bright spots. The album’s lowest point though is “Time In” performed by Sean and Jhené Aiko as TWENTY88, a song that sees the pair harmonizing about their relationship over an airy, synth-laced instrumental. It features Sean’s worst performance on the album, as both his rapped verse and vocal harmonies are horrible.

This album could’ve used more quality control, as there is a great album hiding in Detroit 2’s overly-long, 71 minute runtime. There are enough highs here that if the 21-song tracklist was cut down to about 15 or so tracks, including the fantastic guest stories, it could’ve been his undisputed magnum opus. Still, in spite of its flaws, Detroit 2 is Big Sean’s best album in years, maybe his discography, even if it doesn’t quite live up to its potential.


Underrated albums of 2020, Vol. 2: Kacy Hill – Is It Selfish If We Talk About Me Again

Kacy Hill’s GOOD Music tenure was uneventful. Now as an independent artist, her music can shine without lofty expectations

When Kacy Hill first emerged into the mainstream as a feature on Travis Scott’s “90210,” it was apparent that she was a star in the making. Prior to that, Kanye West’s infamous GOOD Music label had signed her to a deal after West heard her promotional single “Experience” on his The Yeezus Tour in 2013. Clearly, he saw her potential before anyone else did — a very Kanye thing to do.

Though Hill has a soothing voice and a good ear for beats, she was, for the most part, mishandled by GOOD Music. All the music she released under West’s imprint had pretty much gone by the wayside. With a disturbing lack of label-backing and nearly zero marketing for her debut album Like a Woman, it seemed like her career came to a jarring halt nearly as soon as it began.

GOOD Music has received its fair share of criticism for squandering young talent —  like Desiigner, Cyhi The Prynce, Valee — so it’s understandable that Hill decided to cut ties with West’s once-legendary label. With her departure from the imprint came a more stable release cycle for her music. Despite not having dropped a full album in 2018 or 2019, she released a handful of loosies that would keep whatever fans were still tapped in after her split.

Then came her sophomore album Is It Selfish If We Talk About Me Again. Released entirely independently, Hill’s newest album is not only a return to form but an indication that she’s confident in her own lane of indie-pop.

Kacy Hill made her album without it sounding like a glaring attempt at re-emerging into the mainstream. Her songwriting on tracks like “Much Higher” and “Everybody’s Mother” proves that she can not only sing the hell out of a dreamy pop ballad but write one with extreme care and tenderness.

The sole feature comes from Francis and the Lights on “I Believe in You” and the pairing is as natural as you’d expect. The group is also a GOOD Music signee but their chemistry together is simply an example of what could’ve been if the label had treated her music with the same level of importance that they treat Big Sean and Teyana Taylor.

Is It Selfish If We Talk About Me Again is the type of album you’d put on a Sunday evening in August. It sounds like the summer ending, despite an early May release. It’s chill, relaxing, and thoughtful enough to keep your attention both by the gentle instrumentals and by Hill’s introspective and reflective songwriting.

It’s also a testament to releasing music independently. GOOD Music clearly had a winner on their label and didn’t know what to do with her. It’s a shame that this is such a common occurrence in 2020, as independent artists have proven time and again that they know best when it comes to their own music. Is it surprising? Not really. At least Kacy Hill figured it out.

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