Grammy Predictions: Who Will and Who Should Win

(Photo Credit: The Grammy's)

(Photo Credit: The Grammy’s)

Well, it’s that time of year again. It’s the time for awards to distract you from taxes and the bitter cold. And music’s biggest night is quickly approaching! With performances from Adele, The Weeknd, Kendrick Lamar, Justin Bieber, a David Bowie tribute from Lady Gaga, a Glenn Frey tribute from The Eagles and Jackson Browne and a Lemmy Kilmister tribute from Hollywood Vampires (the band that includes Alice Cooper, Joe Perry, and Johnny Depp), it’s bound to be an eventful night. While I cannot comment on every award, I’m presenting the major ones with my predictions, as well as who should win and who should have been nominated. The Grammy’s are notoriously unpredictable (remember this?), so if I get every one of these wrong, blame them.

Best New Artist: Nominees: Courtney Barnett, James Bay, Sam Hunt, Tori Kelly, Meghan Trainor

Will Win/Should Win: Meghan Trainor/Courtney Barnett.

Although Trainor technically isn’t even qualified to be nominated for this award – she was nominated for a major award last year – this is hers to lose. She’s an excellent songwriter and a talented performer, and does the kind of just-barely-biting-but-still-bubblegum pop that the Grammy’s love. Her album, uh, wasn’t great, though. Barnett deserves this award. Her debut full-length was a wholly original blend of 90’s guitars, Dylan vocal ramblings and suburban Australian apathy.

Should Be Nominated: Fetty Wap. Where was Fetty Wap?

Best Pop Solo Performance: Nominees: Kelly Clarkson, “Heartbeat Song,” Ellie Goulding, “Love Me Like You Do,” Ed Sheeran, “Thinking Out Loud,” Taylor Swift, “Blank Space,” The Weeknd, “Can’t Feel My Face”

Will Win/Should Win: The Weeknd, “Can’t Feel My Face.”

Unabashedly one of the best songs of the year, The Weekned brought semi-subtle darkness to the best rhythm MJ never moonwalked to. The song’s explosive bassline counteracted the lyrics, that sound like a love song, until you realize they’re about an inevitable cocaine overdose. It was the second biggest hit of the year!

Should Be Nominated: The utterly neglected Carly Rae Jepsen. Not for “I Really Like You,” but for the non-single “Run Away With Me.” It’s my blog, I can say what I want.

Best Pop Duo/Group Performance: Nominees: Florence & the Machine, “Ship to Wreck,” Maroon 5, “Sugar,” Mark Ronson & Bruno Mars, “Uptown Funk,” Taylor Swift & Kendrick Lamar, “Bad Blood,” Wiz Khalifa & Charlie Puth, “See You Again”

Will Win/Should Win: Khalifa & Puth/Swift & Lamar

This one is really tough. Swift, Ronson and Khalifa all stand a big chance. But I have to give it to “See You Again.” While I have made my thoughts on Khalifa known, it is a genuinely great song. It also has two benefits: one of the 10 YouTube videos with over a billion views, and a now very famous spot in a movie – used in Furious 7 to commemorate Paul Walker’s untimely death. Plus, it was shunned by the Oscars, where it failed to even be nominated in a category it was expected to win. That said, “Bad Blood” was one of the most entertaining songs of the year, and brought together two artists that are usually hesitant with collaborations, and two artists who are otherwise competing tonight.

Should Be Nominated: Selena Gomez & A$ap Rocky, “Good For You.” Selena was among many former Disney stars who went through a whole career reboot this year, and the lead single from her great (and aptly named) album “Revival” is a sultry and engaging duet. Now, frankly, A$ap doesn’t help the song, and when it was released as a single, his verse was cut.

Best Rock Song: Nominees: Alabama Shakes, “Don’t Wanna Fight,” Elle King, “Ex’s and Oh’s,” Florence & the Machine, “What Kind of Man,” Highly Suspect, “Lydia,” James Bay, “Hold Back the River”

Will Win/Should Win: Alabama Shakes, “Don’t Wanna Fight”

I will hesitantly say that this one is almost guaranteed to the Shakes. “Don’t Wanna Fight” is not only one of the bluesiest and spine-tingling sons of the year, it’s one of the most this decade. Brittany Howard’s booming vocals are reminiscent of Ella or Aretha, but it a modern-tinged setting. It’s one of the best songs of the year, and the type of thing the Grammy’s love.

Should Be Nominated: After frustratingly finding out that Royal Blood’s “Figure It Out” was eligible last year, I’ll say Courtney Barnett’s “Pedestrian at Best.” It’s one of my favorites from the year. It would go under Best Alternative Song, but that’s not a category.

Best Rock Album: Nominees: James Bay, “Chaos and the Calm,” Death Cab For Cutie, “Kintsugi,” Highly Suspect, “Mister Asylum,” Slipknot, “.5: The Gray Chapter,” Muse, “Drones”

Will Win/Should Win: just throw a dart at the list/anything besides these nominees

Muse’s album was terrible, Death Cab’s album was worse. “Kintsugi” was the only album in 2015 I couldn’t make it through. Slipknot haven’t been relevant in years. I cannot say I am overly familiar with the music of Highly Suspect or James Bay and cannot comment on them further, I imagine they’re talented acts, to share the bill with three outdated artists. I have to make a prediction? Ugh. James Bay probably.

Should Be Nominated: METZ. Motorhead. Viet Cong. More than anyone else, Marilyn Manson.

Best Alternative Album: Nominees: Alabama Shakes, “Sound & Color,” Bjork, “Vulnicura,” My Morning Jacket, “The Waterfall,” Wilco, “Star Wars,” Tame Impala, “Currents”

Will Win/Should Win: Alabama Shakes, “Sound & Color

With all due respect to Wilco’s phenomenal album, this is again the Shakes’ to lose. I mean, it’s also nominated for Album of the Year, so it’s a surefire. Through and through, the best rock album of the year. Might as well take this time to highlight on of my favorite songs of the year, Tame Impala’s “Let It Happen,” which vaulted the album into nomination.

Should Have Been Nominated: How many times do I have to say this? Courtney Barnett, for “Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit”

Best Rap Song: Nominees: Fetty Wap, “Trap Queen,” Kendrick Lamar, “Alright,” Common & John Legend, “Glory,” Drake, “Energy,” Kanye West, Theophilus London, Allan Kingdom & Paul McCartney, “All Day”

Will Win/Should Win: Kendrick Lamar, “Alright”

As much as I want to see Sir Paul McCartney pick up a Best Rap Song award, I don’t see the Grammy’s giving this to anyone other than Kendrick. His album is filled with topical and devastating muses on the state of black culture, and “Alright” cuts the deepest. It’s a true rap song for the ages. That said, if Fetty Wap wins, it is well deserved.

Should Have Been Nominated: anything from Nicki Minaj’s “The Pinkprint.” How about “Want Some More”?

Best Rap Album: Nominees: J. Cole, “2014 Forest Hills Drive,” Drake, “If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late,” Dr. Dre, “Compton,” Kendrick Lamar, “To Pimp a Butterfly,” Nicki Minaj, “The Pinkprint”

Will Win/Should Win: Kendrick Lamar, “To Pimp a Butterfly

Easy. This is a stacked category – really, these are all great albums – but Lamar is fighting T. Swift for Album of the Year, and none of these will stand in his way. His album is one of the greatest rap albums ever, and the Grammy’s owe him one from last time. That said, “Pinkprint” was my favorite album from last year, and a win for Nicki would be huge for her career.

Should Have Been Nominated: I don’t really have a true answer for this one so a personal pick, Heems, “Eat Pray Thug”

Record of the Year: Nominees: D’Angelo & the Vanguard, “Really Love,” Mark Ronson & Bruno Mars, “Uptown Funk,” Ed Sheeran, “Thinking Out Loud,” Taylor Swift, “Blank Space,” The Weeknd, “Can’t Feel My Face”

Will Win/Should Win: The Weeknd, “Can’t Feel My Face”

So, let’s get this straight. I still don’t entirely understand the difference between this and the next category, Song of the Year. From my understanding, it relates to the overall production of a song, not just the writer/performer. All that said (or not said), The Weeknd made the best damn song of the year, and although he has competition here, I’m pulling for the Grammy’s picking him. It’s truly one of the grooviest songs in years.

Should Have Been Nominated: There’s a million answers to this. Elle King? I love “Ex’s and Oh’s.” The production on Bieber’s album was excellent too, it’s surprising not to see him nominated in this category.

Song of the Year: Nominees: Kendrick Lamar, “Alright,” Taylor Swift, “Blank Space,” Little Big Town, “Girl Crush,” Wiz Khalifa & Charlie Puth, “See You Again,” Ed Sheeran, “Thinking Out Loud”

Will Win/Should Win: Taylor Swift, “Blank Space”

This is a surprisingly weak category, given all of the great songs that came out this year. Khalifa could easily take it, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the Grammy’s give Swift this award as a consolation prize (see below). It is probably the best song of the bunch, and Swift is deserving of at least some awards for “1989,” which really is a great pop album. Maybe the name she’ll be writing is “Grammy” or something, sorry, that’s, never mind.

Should Have Been Nominated: Although chart success does not necessarily equate award success, there is a conspicuous lack of both “Uptown Funk” and “Can’t Feel My Face” from the list. The Weeknd deserves this award. End all, be all.

Album of the Year: Nominees: Alabama Shakes, “Sound & Color,” Kendrick Lamar, “To Pimp a Butterfly,” Chris Stapleton, “Traveller,” Taylor Swift, “1989,” The Weeknd, “Beauty Behind the Madness”

Will Win/Should Win: Kendrick Lamar, “To Pimp a Butterfly.”

I saved this for last because I truly cannot decide if I think the Grammy’s will give it to Kendrick or Taylor. No discredit to the other nominees, who are all very deserving, but this is a two-person fight. There’s some factors here: 1) The Grammy’s love Taylor, who released what might be her best album yet, 2) The Grammy’s know they messed up by not giving “good kid m.A.A.d city” Best Rap Album in 2013, 3) “To Pimp a Butterfly” is a much better album than “1989.” I think it’s going to go to Kendrick. There will be upset if he loses, although Swift also deserves the award. But man, it’s been years since there has been an album as politically relevant and important as Lamar’s. Rolling Stone, Pitchfork, Vice, EW, Billboard, President Obama and me all agreed it was the best album of the year. If he doesn’t win this award, he’d better call for a permanent boycott of the Grammy’s. #GrammysSoWhite

Thanks for reading! Check back in tomorrow to see what I got right and what I got wrong. And tune in for next year’s coverage, to see how many awards Adele wins.

-By Andrew McNally

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Wiz Khalifa – “Khalifa”

Grade: C

Key Tracks: “BTS,” “Zoney”

Wiz Khalifa’s new, half-eponymous release is his sixth studio album, and it comes out right in the middle of a stacked month for him. Khalifa was, now infamously, involved in a quick Twitter feud with Kanye, in which the only real winner was Amber Rose. West – rightfully – attacked Khalifa for a career’s worth of mediocre music, and then – not rightfully – brought his ex-wife and son into the mix. Brushing that aside, Khalifa is up for a major Grammy nomination, for Song of the Year for the Furious 7 song “See You Again,” with Charlie Puth. Perhaps unexpectedly, this was an apropos time for him to drop a studio album.

And it’s okay. Khalifa has never been interested in being a truly innovative rapper, nor has he ever gotten political. Those are critiques in 2016 – the rap scene is getting more and more bloated, with seemingly hundreds of famous rappers trying to find their unique voice (and many of them doing it through rough, political tracks). This is, much like his previous album “Blacc Hollywood,” just a passable rap album.

There’s more interesting things going on from a musical standpoint than on “Hollywood,” which was just boring all-around. The more energetic songs have some oomph that was missing before, and there’s decent use of piano lines throughout that complement trap beats. And “Call Waiting” sits at the midpoint, breaking up monotony with some reggae that ends just before wearing out it’s welcome (although the Fugees reference at the beginning – undeserved). A tender moment happens at the end of “Zoney,” when he brings his young son into the recording (which comes off as a Win, given Kanye’s recent and incredibly inappropriate comments towards the child). There’s also a general lack of the empty ballads that divided “Blacc Hollywood,” with Khalifa sticking more closely to bangers and weed songs.

And weed songs aplenty. All but one, I think. There’s at least three songs that start with the sound of Khalifa smoking. He raps about buying weed, smoking weed, listening to songs he can smoke weed to, you know, diversity. The 6+ minute track “Lit” seems like it might be something innovative for Wiz, given it’s length, but it’s just him (and Ty Dolla $ign) rapping about weed for six minutes instead of four. Lead single “Bake Sale” is a corny joke, some of the corniest lyrics on the album. Every single song disappoints, lyrically, and although Khalifa’s flow has improved, he just sounds uninspired. He wanted to be known as a “weed rapper,” and he pummels us with that so much that he has become his own parody; his own walking advertisement for a product that cannot actually exist. In a world where rap is changing by the week, Khalifa is throwing himself into the heyday of three years ago – and he’s being left behind.

-By Andrew McNally

Sorry Guys, Women Won Music (Again) in 2014

Man, us men really spent the year treading water. As 2014 comes to a (well-deserved) close, and we discuss the best and worst in music, one thing in evident – women really lead the way. Women released better songs, better albums and had more progressive things to say than men did. So although men can boast, dick around and talk big, it was women that paved every path this year. Aloe Blacc was the man? Well Beyonce was Flawless. From Laura Jane Grace to Ariel Pink, Wiz Khalifa to Mish Way, both men and women helped women become the beacons of music in 2014.

2013 was an exceptional year for women in music, too. I almost wrote this article last year, but I was then too devoted to keeping this blog strictly reviews. It’s amazing to think it was only last year that unknown teenager Lorde nearly overtook Robin Thicke for biggest song of the year. But where 2013 was all about new acts establishing themselves in new niches of music (like one Crutchfield sister in Swearin’ and the other in Waxahatchee, both redefining punk), 2014 was all about the big names taking sides and taking stances.

2014 began on December 13th of last year, when “Beyonce” dropped unexpectedly. Not even the album’s guest stars knew there was an album coming out. Only Beyonce could have a release that huge, that unannounced and that coherent. It would go on to champion a year full of feminism and sexuality where women dominated, with only minimal exceptions.

Women Dominated Albums

“Beyonce” may have been the year’s best album (if you count it), but it was one of just many great albums from women. Charli XCX and Nicki Minaj followed in Beyonce’s path and released December albums – a month usually reserved for contractual-obligation Christmas albums. Tinashe and FKA twigs released two of the year’s best debuts, two R&B albums that establish each singer’s other-worldly confidence. And speaking of other-worldly confidence, the year’s best album unabashedly went to St. Vincent. Annie Clark’s guitar-drenched songs of surveillance and snakes were nothing else we heard all year, in both scope and confidence.

Taylor Swift did something usually disastrous for musicians and switched genres (Remember “Forever“?). But she went passive, attacking armchair critics on “Shake it Off,” not coincidentally one of the year’s best/biggest songs. “1989” was a big mess of a pop album that convinced many people (myself) that there really is more there than angry break-up songs.

Another one of the year’s best albums came from Lana Del Ray, who listened to criticisms and improved her music in every way. “Ultraviolence” was dark, brooding and seductive – a 60’s minimalist pop work that’s ready to defend itself from Youtube comments. With songs like “Fucked My Way to the Top,” Lana owned her identity, to the chagrin of many. In comparison, Sam Smith provided one of the year’s best songs – “Stay With Me” – but struggled to find his own musical identity, with a lackluster debut and less of a personality than his minimalist pop peers.

And this brings us back to last year’s minimalist dear, Lorde. Lorde didn’t release any music in 2014 save one song, “Yellow Flicker Beat.” But the song came from the soundtrack to the recent Hunger Games movie, a soundtrack she was assigned to curate. That, itself, is a huge deal for anyone – especially someone still in their teenage years. And, she chose people of a like mind – CHVRCHES, Tove Lo, Tinashe, HAIM, Bat For Lashes, Charli XCX and Grace Jones (!!!) all make appearances.

Women Dominated Songs

“I got one more problem with you, girl”

“I go on too many dates / at least that’s what people say”

“Fuck the skinny bitches in the motherfucking club”

Women seemed to rule the radio this year, too. The year’s best songs and most provocative lyrics belonged to women. Let’s look at these three examples – Ariana Grande dominated the charts this year, with no bigger song than “Problem,” with Iggy Azalea. It was a horn-blasting, bombastic pop song influenced by DJ Mustard’s production but without any unnecessary DJ attachment. Taylor Swift tossed critics askew in a side of her we’ve never seen before, and Nicki Minaj rallied against pro-look pro-anti-feminists. “Anaconda” was one of the year’s best songs – she took a comedically remembered hit from ’92 about the male gaze and repurposed it into a song about female body positivity. What’s better than that?

Elsewhere, there was the female talent showcase of Jessie J/Grande/Minaj on the excellent “Bang Bang,” a song that’s just about bangin,’ and it’s great. It’s just a fun, upbeat pop song that shows off some talent. Grimes’ only contribution to 2014 was “Go,” a crazy, pseudo-steampunk song that reflects your every mood when you listen to it. Katy Perry’s “Dark Horse” might not be one of the year’s most revered songs, but it tied Janet Jackson for most weeks at #1, and it’s just another notch in her book.

Women Owned Feminism & Sexuality

So let’s talk about the most important woman of the year, alright? Laura Jane Grace, of Against Me! In 2012, after Against Me!’s miserably regressive “White Crosses” album, Tom Gabel announced that he was going to start living as a woman, Laura Jane Grace. Grace joined Janet Mock and Laverne Cox, among others, in a year where the transgender movement finally came to a public eye. So Against Me!’s 2014 album, “Transgender Dysphoria Blues” opened a wide audience to a previously closed movement. And while the album had some weak points, tracks like “True Trans Soul Rebel,” “Unconditional Love” and “Drinking With the Jocks” illustrate Grace’s struggles with gender identity in the way of some of Against Me!’s most abrasive lyrics yet.

And while we’re on punk, two of the year’s best feminists were Mish Way and Meredith Graves. Mish Way’s band, White Lung, released one of the year’s best albums in “Deep Fantasy.” The album is heavy and real from start to finish, but it’s centered around its second best song, “I Believe You,” a song that’s written from the POV of a surprisingly understanding friend of someone who’s admitting they’ve been sexually assaulted. The song is both musically and lyrically the heaviest thing they’ve done, and it’s one of the year’s most important minute and 42 seconds.

Meredith Graves, of Perfect Pussy, had a busy year. Perfect Pussy’s debut, “Say Yes to Love,” was secretly modeled off the line, “Why do we say yes to love?” The album has a feminist tone throughout, with Graves frequently taking on the established male punk precedent (if you can hear the vocals). Punk music needs a reason to be energetic; Graves and co. don’t hold back about that reason.

Outside of the band, Graves published essays on being a woman in the music industry, comparing Andrew W.K. to Lana Del Ray, and on male pattern violence after Mark Kozelek made an unnecessary, public feud with the War on Drugs.

On the sexuality side, it’s easy to say that sexuality in music as all about confidence – whether it’s outward, like Beyonce’s “Drunk in Love,”  Nicki Minaj’s “Anaconda” – or sultry and subversive – FKA twigs “Video Girl,” Tinashe’s “2 On,” this year was full of strong, confident women, and it’s been a joy of a ride. Keep it up, 2015.

There Are Always Exceptions

Of course there’s exceptions. With Azealea Banks finally getting to release her excellent debut, “Broke With Expensive Taste,” came some harassing, homophobic Twitter rants that diminished credibility. (I won’t link to them – know that they’re out there).

She also started an ongoing feud with 2014’s most problematic female, Iggy Azalea. For those of you reading this, by now you’re surely at least familiar with the name – she had a number of huge hits in the summer – “Problem,” with Ariana Grande, “No Mediocre,” with T.I., and her own songs “Fancy” with Charli XCX and “Black Widow” with Rita Ora. I have to admit, from a music standpoint, I think they’re all great songs. But I wish I didn’t know anything about her when I listen to them. Azalea is Australian by birth, British by upbringing, and whiter than a jar of Hellmann’s. But she raps in a fake, black Southern accent (see: Atlanta) to mimic those who “influence” her. She’s trying way too damn hard and yes, it’s really racist. And yes, she has dropped the N-word.

Lana Del Ray also sparked some controversy by saying she would rather talk about space travel than feminism. The degree to which it’s just to fit in with her old-money, Gatsby-befriending persona is debatable, but it’s something that was said and can’t be forgotten.

Katy Perry and Miley Cyrus also made trouble with some serious, continuous cultural appropriation, done for their own “artistic benefits.” Both artists have remained silent when asked by fans to stand up for actual black issues like Ferguson.

But Here’s What Men Did This Year

Men accomplished little this year, in terms of music (and most other things). As always – exceptions. Pharrell’s “G I R L” album was a great, feminist work (and acted as an unintentional apology for “Blurred Lines”). Perfume Genius’ song “Queen” was one of the most honest, heartbreakingly rattling songs of the year. Patrick Carney, of the Black Keys, had a year spent on the offensive where he called out people like Jack White for their actions. And, artists like John Legend and J. Cole led the movement to recognize the need to acknowledge Ferguson, with ?uestlove adding that we need more Bob Dylans and Rage Against the Machines – artists with political motivations. But for every Run the Jewels, there’s at least one Eminem, so let’s look at men being men:

Eminem. Eminem released a song where he threatens to punch Lana Del Ray. Why? To what purpose? Eminem is 42 years old, and his fight for relevance includes threatening the most passive, pacifistic singer you can think of? That’s not intimidating. If Eminem wanted to stay popular, he’d retire and let his record speak for itself. Or, he could actually focus on the quality of his music, since he hasn’t had a good song since “Lose Yourself” (arms spaghetti) and his 2014 contribution was a Shady greatest hits compilation no one asked for.

Mark Kozelek. Sun Kil Moon’s 2014 album “Benji” was remarkable, but the 47 year old singer is also fighting a losing battle with aging, as he started a one-sided, unnecessary feud with the War on Drugs, a band that has looked up to him, and has taken no part in this imaginary feud. It all culminated with the admittedly silly and meta but still homophobic single, “The War on Drugs Can Suck My Cock.” The fact that these attacks are unresponded to amounts to nothing more than Kozelek trying to prove his manliness and yelling at a crowd that isn’t listening.

Ariel Pink. Human clickbait Ariel Pink’s 2014 album, “pom pom” made a lot of year-end lists. I didn’t listen to it. Ariel Pink called out Grimes, for some reason, calling her “stupid and retarded,” insults I never realized people used after the age of 12. Pink said he was contacted by Madonna to record for her new album only to say she’s been on a big downward spiral. Madonna’s publicist said he was lying, that she had never heard of him. Downward spiral? Meet Ariel Pink.

Robin Thicke. Thicke! Thicke was quiet in 2014, but he wasn’t trying to be. Black metal bands be damned, the creepiest album of 2014 went to “Paula,” Thicke’s in-depth, hyper-specific public apology to his ex-wife. First week sales counts: USA – 24,000. UK – 530. Australia – 158. 158 copies in Australia didn’t crack the Top 200.

Phil Rudd. For a band that sings constantly about manly stuff like rocking and violence, AC/DC’s first controversy didn’t come until this year, when drummer Phil Rudd was arrested for trying to hire a hitman to kill his wife. The band was as shocked as it’s fans, where was this rock and roll stuff in 1977?

Future killed the good fortune he’d set up with one of the best albums of the year, “Honest,” by admitting he cheated on Ciara and by guesting on the atrocious “Pussy Overrated” with Wiz Khalifa. Jack White did interviews where he groomed his image by verbally attacking respected artists like Adele, the Black Keys, and even Meg. Chris Brown got arrested a few more times, and had the gall to release a song about disloyal girlfriends. I could keep going on about men in music, but these are the biggest examples. Most of the best music of the year was done by women, and women made the bigger stories. They’ve had to, because to be anything less than extraordinary is going to get them shelved under male musicians. Let’s keep this going. 2015 should be the return of Adele, and Beyonce might even give us another album. We’re starting on the right foot.

-By Andrew McNally. Inevitable responses can be directed to amcnal817@gmail.com. Article can be reprinted or referenced, with citation. Feel free to remove links if ya do.

Wiz Khalifa – “Blacc Hollywood”

Grade: C-

Key Tracks: “Promises” “Stayin Out All Night”

The best hip-hop albums are either wide-ranging, embracing different emotions and musical styles (“Beyonce”), or are directly consistent, pulling all of their material from the personae of the people behind it (“Straight Outta Compton”). “Blacc Hollywood” is neither of these, and it isn’t a great hip-hop album because of it. Rather, “Blacc Hollywood” starts with a call, a semi-political, semi-social trumpeting of the new ‘Blacc Hollywood,’ before quickly diverging into inconsistent weed songs and rough-childhood ballads. “Blacc Hollywood” wants desperately to have a point, but it never does.

The biggest fault with “Blacc Hollywood” is the lack of any flow. Khalifa tries to embrace different influences with the pairing of ballad “Promises” and weed song “KK” close to the beginning, but it only comes off as two disagreeing songs that don’t fit at all. It isn’t laziness – it’s ambition and ideas, without knowing how to execute them. The ideas on “Blacc Hollywood” compete rather than complement. “House in the Hills,” a ballad about not wanting to raise his son in the world he was raised in, doesn’t sound complete with the vain club banger “We Dem Boyz” popping up three songs earlier. This early disconnect faults the album’s second half, which is more consistent but less noticeable.

Indeed, Khalifa’s writing on this album isn’t that remarkable. “We Dem Boyz” has been getting airplay since it’s release in February, but there’s really nothing to the song. It’s a glorified chorus with little change for 3:45. His personal songs are honest and gut-punching, but the others are often too predictable (look no further than “Ass Drop”). Later album track “Stayin Out All Night” is helped by a huge, fuzzy, banging beat, but it’s in the middle of a string of forgettable songs.

Some guest spots do help the album – Ty Dolla $ign shows up on two different tracks, as do fellow Taylor Gang rappers Juicy J, Chevy Woods and Project Pat. Curren$y shows up on the honest “House in the Hills,” and Nicki Minaj drops a spot on the largely excellent closer, “True Colors.” (Unfortunately, a proposed collaboration with Adele was never more than an idea – how weird would that be? Bring new meaning to “Rolling in the Deep”).

So “Blacc Hollywood” isn’t Khalifa at his best. He’s more treading water – fueling a fanbase with self-serving bangers and ballads without offering anything great or consistent. It doesn’t come to a point, and it doesn’t flow like a hip-hop album should. Khalifa sounds fine on his own, but there isn’t anything noteworthy going on around him. As confused as it is average, “Blacc Hollywood” deserves a spin or two at a house party, but little more than that.

-By Andrew McNally

Future – “Honest”

Grade: B+

Key Tracks: “My Momma” “Benz Friendz (Whatchutola)”

Future’s second album isn’t entirely filled with winners, but it’s certainly unpredictable. Future, aka Nayvadius Cash, uses some brooding and synthy music to create a dark atmosphere around his music. But at the same time, it’s rhythmic and full of catchy hip-hop beats and occasional meaty samples. It matches the lyrics, which alternate between dirty and explicit to nods to personal struggles.

“Honest” could almost be described as “moody,” because of it’s seemingly inherent dark nature, but the title wouldn’t be right. The album is deceiving. Although it has many honest moments (hence the title), Future creates a unique and well-rounded atmosphere, one that’s human, with qualities both good and bad. The music’s dark but palpable nature not only reflects that, but it’s consistent throughout the album.

Future’s rapping remains the best part of his music, often frantic and unpredictable. He has a knack for dropping words in at select moments and creating his own vocal rhythms alternate to the music. It contributes to the trippy feel, with sometimes competing rhythms. Lyrically, Future is in complete control. He switches from explicit, like on opener “Look Ahead,” and on single “Move That Dope,” to tales of divorce settlements and upbringings (the affecting “I Won” and the personal “My Momma”).

He also has some A-list guest stars, who drop in for some inconsistent but sometimes great spots – Andre 3000 drops in on one the album’s best songs, “Benz Friends (Whatchutola),” and Wiz Khalifa guests on one of the most honest songs, “My Momma.” Drake and Kanye both show up, the former providing a memorable but short spot on an interlude, the latter contributing the album’s deepest story, “I Won.” Elsewhere, Pharrell, Casino and Pusha T are largely wasted on the overlong and tepid “Move That Dope,” but even securing their spots cements Future’s stance in the future of hip-hop. The only time the album sags is it’s midpoint, with a couple straight songs without guest spots, but it’s saved by the rich solo track “Covered in Money” and the collaboration with Andre 3000.

*One small issue I want to address with the album is that “Look Ahead” samples Amadou & Mariam’s “Dougou Badia,” and the duo seems to be getting no credit for their sample. I usually don’t pick up on things like this, but the sample is used as the whole basis of the song. They might have chosen not to get credit, I have no idea, I just want to put credit where credit is due because I defend Amadou & Mariam at all costs. Otherwise, “Honest” is a great album that creates a whole world without getting stuck in it, and helps to prove that Future’s name is well-chosen – he seems to be ahead of everyone else right now.

-By Andrew McNally