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Tuesday Reviewsday: Kendrick Lamar, Rihanna, Drake and more

Kendrick Lamar
Kendrick Lamar "The Blacker The Berry"
Top Dawg Entertainment (via YouTube)

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Tuesday means it's time for new music on Take Two. This week journalist Oliver Wang joins A Martinez in the studio to talk about the latest releases.

Oliver Wang

Artist: Drake
Album: "If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late"
Song: "No Tellin'"
It’s funny that releasing an album with no warning is now known as "pulling a Beyonce" but that's what Drake basically did the other week, dropping a 17-track "mixtape" on the populous out of nowhere. Whether this is an album or a mixtape largely depends on your point of view. To me, it's 17 produced and engineered, original tracks. That to me says "album." But as others have pointed out, this is more sparse than your typical Drake album and it feels more like a pet project he decided to whip together just to get the buzz rolling on his official next album. In any case, if you're a Drake fan, you've already gobbled this up. If you're not a Drake fan…well, I don't know if it's going to win you ever but it does put Drake - as a rapper, rather than singer - front and center in a way that this albums don't always do. 

Artist: Kendrick Lamar
Song: "The Blacker the Berry"
Speaking of sneak releases, Kendrick Lamar set off a mini bomb when he released "The Blacker the Berry" a few weeks back. Presumably this is from his upcoming album, the follow-up to "good kid/m.A.A.d. city," but mostly, it’s his response on the last year of protest and debates around racism. Kendrick took considerable heat for sending out a tweet in January where it sounded like he was blaming men like Eric Garner for his death at the hands of police, but "Blacker the Berry" is a far more sophisticated and nuanced take on both white supremacy and so-called black-on-black violence. He doesn't create a false equivalency between the two but instead, pens what I think is a remarkably agile essay that may be one of the best things about the entanglements of race and racism that I've heard in hip-hop in a while. 

Artist: Rihanna
Album: Soundtrack of "Home"
Song: "Towards the Sun"
At first, I had no idea this was Rihanna. For one thing, it’s just a lot…brighter than her recent songs. Maybe it's because this is from the upcoming Dreamworks Animated film, "Home," but whatever the reason, it's an enjoyable revelation to hear Rihanna stretch her style out a bit and tackle this. Love the choral oomph that's on the chorus. I have no idea what the film is about but this is enough to make me curious about it. 

Artist: Kelly Clarkson feat. John Legend
Album: "Piece By Piece"
Song: "Run Run Run"
This was another song that initially caught me off guard because it's such a quiet, almost morose sound from a pop star we tend to associate with huge anthems. Plus, you have John Legend, hot off his Oscar win for "Glory," making a compelling duet partner, especially when he kicks into his falsetto to harmonize with Clarkson. We don't hear it here but the song takes a  "start quiet and end loud" route to close on a thunderous note. This is from Clarkson's upcoming album "Piece by Piece," and it's a very auspicious sign. Sounds like she's putting her stamp down to claim 2015's first big pop album. 

Artist: MURS
Album: "Have a Nice Life"
Song: "The Strangest"
I wanted to end with my favorite song in the entire batch: a latest from L.A.'s own Murs and the song "The Strangest." Murs is easily one of the most prolific MCs to ever come out of the Southland - I think he's up to near 20 or so full-length releases since first dropping his debut album "F'Real" back in 1997. Last year, Murs signed with Strange Music, a label cofounded by Tech 9ine, and this is the lead single for his upcoming May album on Strange, "Have a Nice Life." Love hearing Murs just let loose lyrically here, especially over a beast of a track by Curtiss King.