Album of the Week: Erika de Casier’s Essentials (2019)

Copenhagen’s Erika de Casier just announced her next song “Drama” with an eye-popping Instagram post, so to celebrate I decided to revisit her debut album Essentials, which blew my mind upon first listen nearly two years ago and sounds amazing today, too. Now signed to one of my favorite labels, 4AD, I can’t wait to here what she has in store for her follow-up. Below is a slightly edited version of my Essentials review, which I wrote in 2019:

I love Aaliyah, Destiny’s Child, Craig David, Usher, Janet Jackson, Toni Braxton, and so on.

Erika de Casier wears her influences on her sleeve, as Essentials makes quite clear. But this isn’t some trendy gimmick. As the above quote (from an interview with i-D) demonstrates, the 90’s nostalgia comes from the heart. And with the help of mysterious Danish production team El Trick (aka Central) and DJ Sports*, de Casier’s debut is as much an enjoyable blast of nostalgia as it is a refreshingly new pop album.

The hits come early and just keep on hitting. After the lush pull of “The Flow”, the g-funk bounce of “Do My Thing” delivers her M.O. in its earworm chorus (bonus points for the brilliant no-budget video). It’s hard to pick stand-outs from the rest of the bunch because the sound is so fully-formed and consistent, but its worth mentioning the three-song arc of “What U Wanna Do?”, “Rainy”, and “Space”, tracks which in their moodiness work as effective contrasts to the sunshine of the album’s first half.

Erika de Casier’s vocal presence is warm and light, allowing her to float perfectly in the mix of the airy production. Lyrically, this is pretty standard pop fare that could have been written for most any Destiny’s Child song 20 years ago, but there is a repeated theme of de Casier urging her lover/listener to put their phone down and enjoy life (“Good Time”, “Intimate”), which I can totally get behind. Multiple listens reveal a handful of funny quirks and adlibs which are hard not to love. There are no features and other than “Photo of You”, which I think samples “Summer Madness”, there are no discernible samples.

I did a double-take on first listen here and it’s fair that you might too. But as she says on “Story of My Life”, Not tryna hide nothin’ / yeah I’m just comin’ real wit it. A superb debut that holds up well.

Listen to Essentials on Spotify.

*For more on these two, check out this p4k sampler and their distribution website.

Album of the Week: Lil B’s Gold House (2011)

“Gold house n****, only n**** with a house” – “Tiny Pants Bitch”

Lil B went on his most prolific run from 2010-2013 (2013 being the first year since 2009 that he released less than 5 mixtapes), and a decade later I’m inclined to agree with Tinymixtapes that 2012’s White Flame best exemplifies what is most incredible about this output. Admittedly, I’ve probably heard less than half of his 60+ full-length (or longer) projects, but recently I’ve enjoyed immersing myself in the mystifying ocean that is the Lil B discography. It helps that it’s all streaming. Whomst amongst us remembers downloading Basedgod tapes from Datpiff, often loaded with dozens of songs, only to find our laptops running low on space? Thankfully, the massive Lil B catalog came to streaming platforms in 2019, and now sampling any tape is as easy as a click.

Gold House (alternatively Goldhouse) was released on Christmas 2011, about a month before the aforementioned White Flame. What I love about this era of Lil B is the energy and off-the-wall performance, and I think a lot of this has to do with the production here. After White Flame came God’s Father, which has its own fanbase (it’s currently Lil B’s highest-rated project on RateYourMusic at an average of 3.77/5 from over 2500 ratings). However, God’s Father contains spacier, cloudier production. Over atmospheric production, Lil B is often more likely to loosen his flow and rap in a lethargic drawl, and this is where I feel he falters most as an artist.

This cloud-rap production is hard to find on White Flame and Gold House. Rather than the atmospherics beats of Clams Casino and the like, we get a style much more indebted to New Orleans: No Limit and Cash Money Records’ glitzy, turn-of-the-millenium bangers. Indeed, White Flame‘s album cover pays homage to Soulja Slim’s Give It 2 ‘Em Raw, he directly shouts out Cash Money here on “Im Like Killah Remix” and the ridiculous “Awsome” beat is simply a slowed “Go DJ”. An energized Lil B is rapping within one second of the opener “Green Card” (“Imma call you Homer, you got no dough”). The rapid-fire “I Love Strugglin” provides just one of many abstract kernels of Lil B’s unparalleled perspective: “Bitch Mob bitch, suck a dick / Gold House bitch, we love strugglin'”.

Lest you think Lil B solely exists in a fantasy realm, peep “Gangstas Smile” which begins, “My girl had an abortion, changed the game / I’m not ready to be a dad”. Damn. And all this over a gorgeous soul sample. Gold House concludes with “Based Gangstas Prayer”, a solemn conclusion to an otherwise rambunctious mixtape.

“Keep that love in your heart.” – Lil B

Listen to Gold House on Spotify.

Album of the Week: E-40’s Poverty and Prosperity (2015)

In 2015, E-40 had spent the past 5 years releasing double- and triple-albums (The Block Brochure had a whopping six installments). But then, the 47 year old rapper decided to switch things up by releasing an anomaly in his discography: a 7-track EP with themes of family, introspection, and god-fearing christianity.

So here’s an easy litmus test for this one: If a 7-minute version of “Across 110th Street” as interpreted by E-40 sounds good to you then you’re in luck, because that’s exactly how Poverty and Prosperity starts. No, he doesn’t sing the chorus (that’s Park Ave.), but his repurposing of Bobby Womack’s classic anthem into a tribute and commentary on his hometown of Vallejo, California is a surprising and welcome start to this release.

More surprises abound: The soulful Mike Marshall (who sang the iconic chorus of “I Got 5 On It”) helps turn “The Way I Was Raised” into a gospel dirge; “Appreciation” is practically pop country! Although its Uncle Kracker sheen may be overly saccharine to some, the sincerity of “Appreciation” pours through 40’s preaching. “I’ve been speakin’ these real deep messages for many moons, man,” he begins, before addressing the importance of loving family, difficult relationship issues, and how to help a friend addicted to drugs. Almost surreal in its honesty, it stands as one the more unique rap songs I’ve heard from a seasoned veteran and is a successful experiment in genre-blending.

Poverty and Prosperity is not without a classic Yay Area slapper. “Gamed Up” truly endows the listener with indispensable “game” (meaning knowledge or wisdom): “You can hate / Or you can learn”. But my favorite track is the closer, “The End”. Beginning ominously with a sample of Revelation 1:7, 40 then enters this dramatic track by reminiscing on a lost friend. In the second verse he rebukes Satan while owning up to his own habits (“Show me where in the Good Book say I can’t smoke a Taylor!”).

E-40 has always been in his own lane, but his messages of love and devotion are universal. As the man himself would say, “I ain’t above you, I ain’t below you, but I’m right beside you.”

Stream the EP on Spotify.