It’s hard to believe but Nicki Minaj actually made a POP album…and it’s really good.

I resisted the Nicki Minaj bandwagon for a really, really long time.  At first, I thought she was a Young Money puppet– a female extension of Lil Wayne.  Her clothes and image seemed overly sexual and I thought they were designed to be a distraction from a lack of true artistry.  I HATED her verse on Bedrock and most of the other cameos she dropped.  I thought she wilted on the Letterman show during her performance with Robin Thicke (watch at the 4:00 mark), and I thought Massive Attack was a complete brick (I still do).  I also thought the whole Barbies thing was completely derivative of Lady GaGa and her Little Monsters (they are).  Most of all, I could NOT get with all the funny voices.

Somewhere along the way, though, things started to change.  I can’t pinpoint exactly when it was.  Maybe it was when Your Love dropped and she used the dope Annie Lenox sample.  Soon after that, stories started circling that she had not wanted to drop Massive Attack as her single and it was others who had pushed her into it.  At the same time, rumors swirled that Diddy was her manager and she was putting some distance between her and Young Money–at least for her management.  These stories started to make a strong case that Ms. Minaj was truly her own person (even if the Diddy story turned out not to be true).  But that wasn’t enough to sway me.

My ears did perk up however when Kanye West (someone who I think is one of the dopest ARTISTS out there) said that Nicki had the potential to be the 2nd biggest MC ever, only to Eminem.  Huh?!  Kanye has always been a visionary, but FOR REAL??!!  But then I heard her verse on Monster…and I didn’t like it.  Many others I know and respect did though.  I made a mental note.

Soon after that, Right Through Me dropped and you could hear that the pop influences that had surfaced on Your Love were not a one-off.  It came complete with a catchy melody and an even catchier hook.  Hmm.  That one was a guilty pleasure.  A lot of heads weren’t feeling that one, so it was more something to be appreciated on the low than drawing me to the bandwagon.  Still, the seed was starting to grow.

Then Check It Out dropped.  Again, she had jumped on an ill POP 8o’s sample completely from left field.  It was weird.  But I liked it.  The weirder thing was there was nary a protest from the hip-hop community.  None of the blogs (of note) called it wack or disparaged it in anyway.  And, of course her fan base was down with it.

That got me thinking.  Maybe I need to hit refresh and listen to Nicki Minaj as Nicki Minaj and not who I was predisposed to think she was.  And then a funny thing happened.  I stopped hearing the voices (no, not voices in my head).  Instead of hearing the “woof woof, like a dungeon dragon” rah rah, I listened to the lyrics.  First up was Monster, and when I heard the words…I got it.  Ill, ill verse.  Then I started listening to the verses of her other joints instead of the (super catchy) hooks.  Again, the lyrics were ill and surprisingly broader in range than the sexed up lyrics of say…Lil Kim.  Ahem.

What may have finally turned the tide though was when I saw her at Lil Wayne’s homecoming party in Miami.  She wasn’t getting caught up in the revelry and she also wasn’t checked out.  Instead, she seemed very introspective.  There was an intense stillness about her that suggested she was anchored and none of the madness around her (not just at the party, but generally) could sway her.  That was the beginning of bandwagon status for me.

When I heard the whole album though, it sealed the deal.  The subject matter was vast (everything from how to slay an MC to how to maintain your self-esteem as a woman in a world that can be unkind to women) and the beats were even more varied.  Again, instead of being straight hip-hop, it features 80s samples and other pop fare, along with some straight up joints.   It takes chances.   And that is HIP-HOP.

Pink Friday is in stores now.  Here are a couple of songs you may not have heard if you don’t have the album (yet):

Moment 4 Life ft Drake

Save Me

And if you read this far, here’s a bonus cut that’s only available on the Best Buy version of the album.  It’s called Wave Your HandClick here to download.  Warning:  there’s a reason why it’s a bonus cut…

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Are you wondering why in the hell The Joy wasn’t included on Kanye’s album? Pete Rock has the answer (and you’re gonna like it).

The mighty Pete Rock talks about working with Kanye on The Joy (arguably the best of the G.O.O.D. Friday gifts).  He also reveals that the track will be included on the upcoming Kanye and Jay-Z album called Watch the Throne which is rumored to be dropping this year (good G*d another 2010 classic–best year ever for hip-hop).

Kanye’s album leaked today and I don’t know how I feel about that…

On the one hand, part of me thinks “It’s a reality of the biz.  It happens to everyone.”  The other part of me thinks “This dude has given out free music–including many tracks on his album–for the last 9 weeks.  Is it too much to ask that he be able to release his album the way he intended?”  I must admit, I am EXTREMELY curious about how his album will do.  I really wish the Taylor Swift stuff wasn’t there to cloud it.  If you take that aspect away, Kanye is the latest experiment in a long line that includes Prince, Nine Inch Nails, Lil Wayne and Radiohead.  Each of those legendary acts have given away music for free either as promotions or with the confidence that if you make G.O.O.D. Music, people ultimately will buy it or support you financially in other ways.

With Prince, he’s given away music both on his tours and in a London newspaper.  Each promotion drove awareness that he had a new album out (something many people have not cared about with Prince for some time) and provided added value to his legion of fans (at least in the case of the concert giveaway–he got paid by the newspaper in London…).  Nine Inch Nails have been extremely experimental, giving away lo fi versions of their music, samples of their music (5 tracks from an album) and driving upsell by offering collector’s editions to those who wanted to buy the music for a premium.  And Radiohead created the most famous “tip jar” ever by letting fans decide what, if anything, they wanted to pay for In Rainbows. They never released data on the number of sales or the average price paid, but many speculate that the average price paid was $5 per album download.  After the experiment, they released the album in stores 3 months later and it still debuted at #1 on the charts and sold 120,000 in the first week.

While Lil Wayne has not given away any of his commercial music for free, he has given away hundreds of tracks via mixtapes over the last few years.  The sheer volume of music he has given away for free is more than most artists could hope to produce in a lifetime.  His reward?  He was the first hip-hop artist in 3 years to crack 1 million sales of his album in the first week–an incredible feat in today’s music business–and he was indisputably the hottest star in hip-hip for 3 years.  Ironically, only Taylor Swift has sold a million albums in 1 week since then and that was last week.  That brings us back to Yeezy.

Kanye has broken many conventions with the rollout of this new album.  He has released at least 50% of the album as free downloads (how he convinced his label to allow that is a mystery, but the difficulty cannot be overestimated).  He has completely destroyed the decades old formula that you release one single, let it get hot, then release another single, let it get hot, then release the album.  Instead, he has faithfully released a new song each week (G.O.O.D. Fridays) since the first week in September and has several songs in mainstream and mix show radio rotation.  Finally, he released a 34-minute short film/extended music video that had 3-4 additional songs from his album that were not part of his G.O.O.D. Fridays (those songs have now been ripped and a makeshift soundtrack has been created), meaning that people have heard at least 75% of his album weeks before it hits stores.

Now, the album has leaked and people can hear the whole thing (not here but it’s only a Google search away).  Clearly, we live in a world where free music is often just one click away (pause).  Kanye, like those above, is one of the few to not only not fight against this new reality but embrace it and flip it on its head.  I’m thinking his thought process was something like “Tracks from my album are going to leak anyway so f*ck it.  I’m going to give muthaf*ckas some new sh*t every godd*mn week.  They still gonna buy the sh*t because the sh*t is ridiculous, and I’m going to get their email addresses in the process…”  But now, the whole album is out there, something he likely didn’t want based on interviews where he’s said the album will have surprises and he maintained that people have not heard the album.  Given how passionate he is about his work and how giving he’s been with his music, that can’t feel G.O.O.D.  Will he receive from all the gifts he’s given?  We’ll see in about 4 weeks (when first week sales are reported).

P.S., since writing this, I’ve learned Rolling Stone gave Kanye’s album 5 stars out of 5 (props to Rap Radar).  That almost NEVER happens.  Maybe it will be all G.O.O.D. (now I feel good).

Support G.O.O.D. Music.

It’s a new day and Omar Akil is bringing a New World Order to Ambrosia for Heads. Check out his remix of Bun B’s classic Trill O.G.

New World Order:  Bun B – Trill O.G.

Have you ever played an album to death?  Or have you ever questioned why your favorite artist put that bomb ass song at the end of their CD as the third hidden track (and its untitled at that)?  If you’ve ever skipped to track number five cause that’s your ish, then rock with me on this column cause, NEW WORLD ORDER is for YOU!

Here’s the theory.  I will serve up a newly arranged tracklisting for some of your favorite albums.  My goal is to breathe new life into an album that you’ve either run into the ground, or can’t seem to let play all the way through.

I developed this quirky little talent as a youth, way back when skipping tracks took longer than the milliseconds it now takes to navigate an MP3 player.

This column is like pouring Henny over rocks.  It’s the reason why uncles in the hood had the smirnoff in the freezer. “It makes that ish go down smoother”.

The first NEW WORLD ORDER that I am serving up is that BUN B – TRILL OG album.  It must be said that this album is pretty much “classic” status on its own, but if you’ve been letting that “tape rock” until your um…..MP3 player “pops,” then try playing this album in my suggested order.

BUN B – Trill O.G
Lights Camera Action – Perfect open to this album.  Sets the stage for Bun.
I Git Down 4 Mine – this comes after LCA on the album already, but it would be disrespectful to interrupt the integration of these two tracks.  Get the mean face head bop going early in the album, and keep the listener anxious for more.
Listen (Interlude) – Cedrick the Entertainner sets up the legend of UGK with his commentary.  Works well as a lead in to the next track which will feature Pimp and Bun on the same track.
Right Now ft. 2Pac, Pimp C, Trey Songz – Too many times when posthumous verses are placed on albums, the content does not always match.  In this instance, all three MC’s spit about the same topic – MACKING WOMEN.  Great time to drop your first feature track on an album – after Bun has shown on the first two tracks that he could hold this thing down solo if he needed to…
Trillionaire ft. T-Pain – At this point you should be feelin me on this arrangement ish, real talk (no cocky ish either)!!!
Just Like That ft. Young Jeezy – Let that south sound do what it do here.  As big as the Trillionaire track is, this feature from Jeezy will continue that bounce.
Speakeasy ft. Twista, Bluesman Ceddy, St. Louis – When doesn’t Twista drop a monster guest appearance???
Thats a song (Interlude)
Let ‘Em Know – Seven songs in, its the perfect time to remind you people that Bun can spit.  Dj Premier’s track is so hynotic that it navigates you toward full attention to Bun’s lyrics.
Countin Money ft. Yo Gotti, Gucci Mane – Still with me?
Put It Down ft. Drake – Perfect track to follow COUNTIN MONEY.  Bun’s first line goes “Now when it comes to makin money I’m a printin press…” *self explanatory*  Plus its the perfect reward for the fans that listened all the way through, waiting on that Drake verse.
All A Dream ft. Letoya
Ridin Slow ft. Slim Thug, Play N Skillz – This album is full of versatility.  Right now, is the perfect time for Bun to rep home base with that music to lean to (what Houston, arguably, does best).
Chuuuch ft. J Prince – We’er in the home stretch now.  As the album comes to a close, this will fight that listener fatigue.
It’s Been A Pleasure ft. Drake – This is the perfect thank you song for this album, so I gotta let this one rock exactly where it was originally on the album.
Snow Money (BONUS/HIDDEN TRACK) – I’m actually ending the album 1 track early.  I would list Snow Money as a Bonus Track.

Click here to download Trill O.G. Support hip-hop!

–Omar Akil (@omarakil3)

“Slightly better than a DJ with a broken fader and no doubles”

Black Milk’s Album of the Year may be the most slept on rap album in 2010.

Black Milk’s aptly titled Album of the Year is the Detroit producer’s 3rd album and he has definitely found his stride.  His beats are so on point that the rhymes are secondary, but once you give them a listen they are also engaging.  You can hear influences ranging from Dre to Premier to the late great Dilla along with a healthy dose of Black Milk’s own unique flavor.  Keep an eye on him.  He may be that next cat that brings instant credibility to any project he touches.  Check out these 3 tracks from Album of the Year:

Deadly Medley

Distortion

Round of Applause

Click here to download the album (support hip-hop).

It’s official. John Legend and The Roots are releasing an album together in September


As you can tell by the numerous collabos between The Roots and John Legend on The Roots album, the 2 artists have been putting in some work together.  They will be releasing a full album called Wake Up! together in September, which sounds like it will be their equivalent of Marvin Gaye’s seminal What’s Going On.  The album mostly will consist of covers of older songs, all of which have “an underlying theme of awareness, engagement and consciousness.”  One of the songs will be a Marvin Gaye song and there will be some Donny Hathaway, as well.  In the meantime, click here to see the video for a song called Hard Times gives a taste of what’s in store.

If you haven’t heard the new Roots album yet, check out this sneak preview sampler. Props to OkayPlayer for always keeping it fresh.

I’ve posted quite a bit from and about this album over the last couple of weeks.  Now that I’ve heard the full album, I feel fully justified.  It’s an instant classic for any Roots fan or lover of good hip-hop.  The full album drops Tuesday, 6/22.  In the meantime, check out this sampler of the full album.