It’s rare thing to get a debut that’s clear in intent and sharp in execution, to be both so full of ideas and so effective in communicating them. That may sound clinical, but it’s this precision that allows the warm heart of Jessy Lanza’s Pull My Hair Back to beat so clearly. You won’t find a pop record released this year more thoughtfully assembled. Built around the push/pull between Lanza’s lighter-than-air vocals and her gently thumping synths, there’s not an ounce of fat on this thing. It’s patient, too, setting up its punches minutes before throwing them: the sharp turn in the latter half of “Fuck Diamond,” the synth eruption midway through “As If”.
Vocally, the obvious comparison is Mariah Carey, and it’s actually instructive here – like Mariah, Lanza flutters over top of her instrumentals, feeling simultaneously distant and unnervingly close. It’s this paradoxical, faraway intimacy that draws you in close enough for these tunes to get their hooks in you. At times, it’s even jarring – the title track sounds as though it’s being performed for the listener alone.
At the same time, Lanza’s wide-screen pop instincts are pure. “Keep It Moving” is a smash hit waiting to happen, all glossy synths and steady pulse and just-vague-enough-to-feel-universal lyrics. It’s far more deserving of a Nile Rogers guitar lick than certain other tracks released this year. This tune – and I mean this as a compliment – would sell a million iPhones. And if that’s what it takes to get Jessy Lanza into our shopping malls, dentists’ offices, and chain restaurants, I can live with it. I’d rather hear her record way too often than not often enough. — Adam Wray
In 2013, nothing was more polarizing among the Passion of the Weiss writing staff than Migos’ breakthrough mixtape, Young Rich Niggas. In fact, had there been some type of music-crit filibuster option at our disposal, this entry likely wouldn’t exist. For many, the Atlanta-based trio—comprised of Quavo, Takeoff, and the elusive Offset, who experienced the group’s viral ascent from behind the walls of Dekalb County Detention Center—trigger flashbacks to the ringtone bubble of the mid-aughts. Their proponents, however, championed their relentless energy and trance-inducing hooks. It’s a love-it-or-hate-it type of record.
No matter where you stand on the trap rap ideological spectrum, you would have to admit their trademark run-on flows were utterly inescapable. One of the most anticipated mainstream albums of the year, Drake’s Nothing Was The Same, featured Migos by way of outright mimicry. Even a poorly executed animated parody of “Versace” tallied upward of 2 million views on Youtube. Migos churned out half a dozen brolic street singles, resurrecting a whimsical aesthetic that harkens back to Busta Rhymes’ early stint with Leaders of the New School. Like most great rap groups, Migos’ most valuable assets are one another, followed closely by a rainbow coalition of wholesale cocaine distributors. — Harold Stallworth
David Lynch told Louis CK one of the keys to the entertainment industry is that you have to go away to come back. After seven years out of the game, J-Zone returned this year with Peter Pan Syndrome and learned that Whole Foods replaced the liquor sto’, Basquiats cleansed the sins of former drug kingpins, and selfies are the outbreak monkey that spread the Disease of Me. Success in 2013 is YouTube views, cosigns by lifestyle magazines, and a careful combination of drugs from the ‘90s and banging girls born in the ‘90s. Urban Outfitters is the new Fat Beats. Twitter beef is the new drive-by shooting. Eighteen year olds making boom bap is the new boom bap. But what’s a god to a non-believer who don’t believe in emoticons?
Success is learning the drums in your mid-thirties. Success is self-publishing a book… about failure. Success is selling out of your new album on cassette. Success is filming your first music video fifteen years into your independent music career. Success is turning your back on LinkedIn. Success is creating something because you love it, or because it’ll get you dap from Granddady IU. No matter how much self deprecation and corporate work horror stories make up his album, don’t let Peter Pan Syndrome fool you – J-Zone is successful. – Zilla