Greetings, Glancers! I now anticipate that my reviews of the best albums of 2020 will be complete around 2030, with me posting roughly two each year. I know I’m slow, it’s just that I like jumping from thing to thing. Which isn’t great for anyone who’s following or anticipating any particular series. Forgiveness, please.
But I have a new one for you today! Some chump who made the decision to call himself ‘Lil Baby’. I can’t fucking stand anyone who puts ‘Lil’ in their name. Who does that? And there’s so many of them. Don’t. Don’t do that. It’s not cute. It’s not clever. It’s not anything beyond a guarantee that I’ll never listen to anything you make and ridicule you without any evidence to support what I’m saying, and I won’t even care.
In spite of the above biased nonsense, I am here today to listen to Lil Baby’s My Turn. As he so shrewdly predicted back when he wrote this album, it is now his turn to be heard and reviewed by me. It goes without any glimmer of hyperbole to say that me posting about him is the single most significant moment of his life thus far, and that everything will be downhill. In many ways he is fortunate to have the opportunity of gaining my attention for the briefest of moments, to have his turn. After all, my time is limited and there’s only so much music I can listen to. He may even gain a new fan.
At the time of writing, I know nothing about him. He may not even be a ‘he’. But I’m assuming he is. And I’m assuming this will be some sort of hip hop album, not a genre I pretend to be educated in. Outside of Public Enemy and Eminem and a bunch of random singles from the last 40 years, I know next to nothing. Maybe he’ll convert me. Maybe I’ll end up making a Youtube React channel – Metal Fan Reacts To Hip Hop – the opposite of all of that junk that’s already out there. Or maybe it’ll be crap and I’ll hate it, which seems more likely. By the time we jump to the next paragraph, I’ll have listened to the album several times.
Before we get into the meat of the album, such as it is, let’s talk about that album artwork. To its credit, it doesn’t exactly scream Hip Hop. It looks like a classic piece of art, a pastoral piece depicting goats (lambs?) frolicking on rocks beside the sea. Except some modern dude has been pasted into the middle of it. Something to do with the old clashing with the new? The streets meeting the country? Escapism? Peace? It’s eye-catching. Good cover. None of what it conveys comes across in the album.
Lyrically, it could be cynically argued that it’s a checklist of Rap cliches, with opener Get Ugly covering all the bases; coming from the hood, being poor, hustling, getting rich, material goods, gold diggers, haters, name-dropping, mocking others for having less, etc. It’s embarrassing when someone who knows as little about the genre as I do could have guessed that each and every one of these would come up – and little else. It’s hard to latch on to or appreciate any themes when it’s all the same shtick we’ve heard a billion times. It’s difficult to care about any of it when every other rapper has been telling the same stories since day 1. There’s nothing new and nothing unique about how it’s written or delivered.
As limited as the range of subject matter is, the delivery is done with pace and skill. The guy seems talented to someone like me with little experience of the genre. It’s unfortunate that the voice, when not buried under auto-tune, is either whining or mumbling. It’s a far cry from the clarity and depth of Chuck D, the satirical vitriol of Eminem, or even the crisp, unavoidable delivery of Ice T, Tupac, or Dre. But those guys are from another era. Maybe this just how we do now.
On the less cynical side, I’m at least aware that Rap lyrics have plenty of poetic techniques which don’t really appear in other genres. I couldn’t tell you what they’re called or how to differentiate from them because when someone tries to explain them to me I usually fade to grey and start thinking about boobs instead. But I know they exist. Trying to read the lyrics off the screen doesn’t work like it does in a rock or pop song. The syntax is all ‘wrong’. Lines rhyme unconventionally, there’s heavy use of slang, possibly personal usage of, abbreviations of, and changes to existing slang, and plenty of what (in my slang) we would call Shleggin. Bitch, I ain’t ’bout to ‘splain that. If that’s what you’re in to, if you enjoy staying in your lane and not being challenged, then this is a perfectly apt and uninspiring effort.
We’re just going to have to live with Auto Tune at this point. I don’t instantly hate it. It’s another way to express yourself. But how is it being used here? Why make the decision to use it? It doesn’t seem like a creative decision. It seems more like following a crowd. It seems like you’re afraid of your own voice, like you don’t believe in your own talent or that you’re admitting your voice is crap, so you need to wrap it in digitized shrouds. How would it sound without Autotune? Prove me wrong. Have the balls to show yourself. I guarantee peope will respect you more for it. Rapping, singing, performing is a talent. Not everyone can do it. It’s exposing. If you’re going to be a performer, then be honest, be real, don’t hide.
Beyond the autotune, the vocals are monotone. Regular glancers will know I thrive on emotion and melody in music. I can tolerate a monotone, emotionless approach to vocals if the surrounding music is powerful, or if the lyrics have something vital to say. The lyrics are the same old shite, so we can check that off the list. The music on the other hand, is good. There are a lot of positives in the musical approach and the production. On a personal level the beats are too prominent. I get that most hip-hop fans will be looking for that beat and rank it higher than I would. As prominent as the beats are, they’re repetitive, feel cheap, and are the weakest part of the overall production.
The underlying music deserves better. It creates a sense of threat and paranoia. That darker vibe created by the faux orchestra does set the album aside from most hip-hop efforts I have heard. The best moments of the album are when the music is allowed to breathe, free of cheap beats, free of mumbling vocals. The vocals and autotune brings things down – autotune has a childish tag attached to it like stink. You can’t maintain threat or quality when you’re being childish. Your attempts at being serious are dismissed.
The whole album is very consistent, in tone, in quality. This has a downside – it’s an hour long. 20 tracks. There’s no need for the album to be this long. There’s a much stronger 12 track album in year. What would you cut? The songs are so interchangeable that it really wouldn’t matter – you wouldn’t lose anything by cutting any songs, and you’d be left with a more manageable, restrained whole. It just keeps going, song by song with little variance outside of a couple of more chilled songs or those with an interesting intro, such as Emotionally Scarred or the backing piano in Sum 2 Prove.
A fairly sorry effort then. We’ve heard it all before, from more talented people, from one hit wonder chart hacks, from the early 80s all the way through to today. It’s a poor reflection of today’s music and audiences if this is ranked as one of the best albums of the year. It’s an album with no surprises, nothing to say, nothing to hear, and little to recommend it. There’s an interesting approach to the music, but it’s clawed back by a litany of cliches and crowd-following platitudes that anything positive is picked clean off the bones.
Sales: 4. There’s no escaping the success of the album, going 4 times platinum in the US. It was apparently ‘the most consumed album of 2020’ in the US too, whatever that means. Whether those sales last over time, we’ll see.
Chart: 4. It made to the top of the charts, twice, and stayed in the Top Ten for months. Around the world – less successful.
Critical: 4. Mostly positive, made many end of year lists, but plenty of vocal detractors too.
Originality: 2. I don’t think you can go higher than 3 here. Admittedly, I’m not an expert on the genre and maybe this did change the game. But rating it against other albums I have heard in the genre, it’s noticeably weaker on all accounts. I would give it a 1, but the music kicks it to a 2.
Influence: 2. No idea. I can’t imagine something so bland and unoriginal and similar to everything else would be very influential.
Musical Ability: 3. Sure.
Lyrics: 2. It’s the same crap we’ve heard in any chart friendly Hip Hop album ever.
Melody: 2. Vocally, it’s a 1. Musically, there are a few interesting moments and rhythms, but nothing you’re going to remember.
Emotion: 1. Any emotion is drowned out by the monotone and autotune approach.
Lastibility: 3. People who like this sort of thing will surely keep listening.
Vocals: 2. Not great. Objectively bad. Flow, is that what we call it? That’s fine, but outside of the rhythm of delivery, by any of the vocalists, it’s poor stuff.
Coherence: 3. The album holds together well. I could go 4 here, except there’s a minimum of five songs too many.
Mood: 2. A shorter album and a less monotone approach would have pushed this up. There’s the makings of a solid, ominous mood.
Production: 3. I would have gone 4 if not for the focus on and cheapness of the beats, and the repeated sticky keys noises.
Effort: 3. I’m sure everyone involved tried their lil hearts out.
Relationship: 1. How do I, as a white, 30 something male from Northern Ireland who grew up in a relatively affluent area of a literal warzone and ignored it all by listening to pop, rock, and metal music relate to this? Not at all.
Genre Relation: 4. For better or worse, it sounds like everything else.
Authenticity: 3. I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt. It all sounds wanky to me, but I’m sure he means it.
Personal: 1. One of the worst albums I’ve heard in my 2020 journey so far. Nothing here I’d choose to listen to again.
Miscellaneous: 2. It’s a nice piece of cover artwork.
Let us know in the comments what you think of My Turn!