The Top 3.75 Hip-Hop Songs Of The Week

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Welcome to Sound of the City's scouring of the many hip-hop songs that drop every week in hopes of finding a couple of songs that stand out. This week we managed to get our hands on three and three-quarters of them—not bad at all.

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Live: Drake Brings Dipset, Busta Rhymes, A$AP Rocky, And More To Jones Beach


Drake w/ J. Cole, Waka Flocka Flame, Meek Mill, 2 Chainz, French Montana
Nikon Theater at Jones Beach
Saturday, June 16

Better than: That other suburban rap mega-show.

Well over halfway through his set, having already given the crowd a festival's worth of openers and played everything but his biggest hits, Drake turned to the crowd: "New York, let me show you how much I love you." Four hours in, his Club Paradise tour had bridged the gap not only between openers Waka Flocka Flame and J. Cole or genres like rap and R&B, but also across a wide range of demographics, seating spoiled 16-year-olds rocking "Self Made" tees side-by-side with old-school heads who first heard surprise guest Busta Rhymes on "Scenario," and not "Look at Me Now." But regardless of that, Drake was right: The show's most exciting moments were still yet to come.

At concerts like this, all those demographics share a desire to believe that their performance is particularly special, realer than all the others and put on just for them. Drake, once awkward in these settings, now knows better than to spoil the fun, spending a long ten minutes moving through the crowd singling out the girl 300 feet away in the red tank top and the couple in matching YOLO hats, but as he spun across the stage to the descending piano chords that anchor "Take Care" or called upon The Weeknd's Abel Tesfaye for some unexpected crew love, it was hard to believe that audiences in Akron or Saratoga saw the same thing.


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Live: Nicki Minaj Takes Off From Summer Jam, Nas And Lauryn Hill Climb Aboard

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Jen Diaz/Hot 97
Lauryn Hill.
Hot 97 Summer Jam: Nicki Minaj, Young Jeezy, Rick Ross, J. Cole, Wale, Meek Mill, DJ Khaled, Waka Flocka, Trey Songz, Maino, Big Sean, 2 Chainz, French Montana, Mavado, Tyga, Slaughterhouse (and Nas and Lauryn Hill)
MetLife Stadium
Sunday, June 3

Better than: Seeing a Nicki Minaj concert.

In an era of increasing separation and ever-tinier attention spans, it's almost quaint to celebrate a tradition like Hot 97's Summer Jam with 60,000 of your closest friends.

Each year, Summer Jam means a sunny early afternoon heading over to the Meadowlands, the constant threat of rain during the afternoon hours, a few rap songs here and there with rappers featuring other rappers, walking into a chilly night leaving the show, and general ratchetness in the parking lot before, during, and after the concert.

Oh, and drama! Plenty of drama—which, in the years since Jay-Z vs. Nas evaporated, has turned into yawn vs. shrug.

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Oddsmaking: Who Will Win This Year's Best New Artist Trophy At The Grammys?

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In this week's Voice I wrote about Skrillex, the emo-dude-gone-dubstep-auteur who's spawned a bunch of funny-Photoshop blogs and garnered five Grammy nominations. One of the categories he's nominated in is one of the Big Four—Best New Artist, which seems to have shaken off its "one-way ticket to obscurity" stigma (recent winners include Maroon 5 and probably Woman Of This Year Adele). But does he have any chance at all of winning this genre-spanning category on Sunday night, and introducing those American viewers who aren't familiar with the EDM circuit to his aesthetic? In the first of a series of oddsmaking posts on SOTC over the next few days, we handicap his odds against The Band Perry, Bon Iver, J. Cole, and Nicki Minaj.

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Radio Hits One: Playing Armchair A&R With The Singles From 2011's Biggest And Best Albums

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The two big formats that have long ruled over popular music are the single and the album. They have a great duality between them: the song and the collection; the sliver and the whole; the appetizer and the main course. Albums are the full-length format long considered pop music's ultimate artistic medium, while the hit single is the galvanizing force that sells albums while blaring from millions of radios, televisions, YouTube windows and cell phones. I've long been fascinated by a slightly more ephemeral concept that exists somewhere in between: the singles campaign for an album. The way an artist or label chooses which songs are released to radio to promote an album, and the sequence in which they're released, often forms a kind of narrative just as much as the running order of the album itself.

Of course, that narrative is often largely about how successful those songs are as singles, and they are often chosen and judged purely by their charting potential. But at its best, a singles campaign is as much an art form as it is a marketing tool. There are formulas and clichés—lead with the stylistic curveball and follow it with the surefire hit; start with an uptempo first single, then bring out the ballad second; and, of course, throw songs at the wall for the fourth and fifth singles if the artist has the profile and the promotional budget to go that far.

Just as sports fans often play Monday morning quarterback, analyzing how their home team did in the big game and how they would've made better choices, music fans are prone to imagining a more ideal world, one in which their favorite albums had better production and their cult favorites were worldwide superstars. For me, that often means speculating on and critiquing which songs were released as singles from an album.

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Radio Hits One: T-Pain Escapes Lead Single Purgatory

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The Revolver cover.
On Thursday Jive Records announced that T-Pain's fourth album rEVOLVEr would be out on December 6. That same day, the rappa ternt sanga's single "5 O'Clock" reached a new Hot 100 peak of No. 25 . The timing wasn't exactly coincidental. The track, on which T-Pain is supported by Lily Allen and Wiz Khalifa, is the sixth single he's released in support of the album, and it has quickly become the most successful to date. But for over two years, he was lobbing one song after another into the marketplace, and each time it would quickly fall off the charts, and Jive would delay the album and start over from scratch.

The press release announcing the album calls "5 O'Clock" the second single from rEVOLVEr, designating "Best Love Song" featuring Chris Brown as the first. Truthfully, they're the sixth and fourth singles, respectively, but they're also the only top 40 hits from the campaign so far—which means everything else that missed will likely be tossed out, or only included as bonus tracks on certain editions of the album.

Not long ago, an album with half a dozen Hot 100 hits would be considered a runaway success. But the bar for singles-chart success to serve as a benchmark for potential album sales has been raised so high in recent years that rEVOLVEr has struggled for two years to find its way into stores, and other albums like it have as well.

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J. Cole Is Still Warming Up In Shadows On Cole World

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J. Cole stands in the intertwined shadows of two of rap's biggest figures: Jay-Z, his label boss/idol/mentor, and Drake, the LeBron James to his Darko Milicic. This is true both in terms of the long view and on Cole's debut album, Cole World: The Sideline Story, out today: Cole is shown up on his own terrain by both Jay, who turns in a uncharacteristically vicious verse on "Mr. Nice Watch," and Drake, who steals dawn sex ode "In the Morning" despite sounding like he regrets the last three whiskeys and tossing out a bizarre anecdote about his aunt riding equestrian.

The guests have the effect of pulling the talented Cole in particular directions; "Mr. Nice Watch" finds him flaunting newfound wealth, while "In the Morning" has him doing a loverman act. This phenomenon isn't new; since he became the first member of Jay-Z's Roc Nation label in early 2009, Cole has starred on the rugged Kanye West posse cut "Looking For Trouble," given Miguel's arresting "All I Want Is You" the voice of a player with a soft spot, and lit up Jay-Z's "A Star Is Born," a song explicitly designed as a coronation for him, with a verse that blended narrative deftness and winning, winking braggadocio. But when Cole is left to his own devices, he can't quite figure out how to turn all of the pieces that make him compelling into a cohesive whole.

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Live: J. Cole Takes Control Of His World At Roseland


J. Cole
Roseland Ballroom
Sunday, September 25

Better than: Rolling your pennies for a rainy day.

A dollar bill doesn't go very far in this city, but last night it bought a ticket to see J. Cole come into his own. A Dollar & A Dream, dubbed in honor of the rapper's three songs of the same name, was part celebration for release of his debut Cole World: The Sideline Story (in stores Tuesday), part opportunity for his loyalists to see him play without maxing out their parents' credit cards. An overwhelmingly young crowd—many of whom seemed to be students at Cole's Queens alma mater, St. John's University—filled Roseland to witness a show with no guest stars, no hypeman, and no scantily clad dancers. Instead, Cole captivated the rapt audience with the help of two keyboardists and the impressive, yet not overbearing turntable skills of DJ Dummy.


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Peter Rosenberg's What's Poppin' Vol. 1 Takes The New York Hip-Hop Scene's Pulse

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New York City rappers have been cast as something of the rap world's whipping boys for more than a few years now. Not only is it fashionable to paint the city's scene as still stuck in the '90s—that's, er, despite the man who effectively runs rap, old man Jay-Z, being pretty proud to hail from Brooklyn—even sympathetic profiles of the city's up-and-comers feel the need to ponder whether the MCs in question can break some sort of curse of the five boroughs. But this way of thinking is bunkum at best, and a cliché at worst.

But those people who've even casually cocked their ears toward the underground know that NYC rap has been doing just fine of late; a unified scene and a common vision have been slowly forming. Radio warrior Peter Rosenberg's first installment in the What's Poppin' mixtape series might not be an outright statement of hometown health, but with over half of the tape's 23 tracks showcasing artists who call NYC home, it's a timely reminder of the scene's promise.


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I Miss You: Aaliyah's Indelible Influence On A Generation Of Male Artists

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For a generation, the unexpected death of Aaliyah Dana Haughton 10 years ago today remains as significant as the deaths of Notorious B.I.G. and 2Pac. This especially rings true for millennial men, who were just realizing girls really didn't have cooties when Aaliyah released her debut, Age Ain't Nothin' But A Number, in 1994. In the years since the plane carrying her and her entourage crashed shortly after taking off, killing everyone on board, the fanboy-like appreciation for Aaliyah has only grown.


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