One side effect of me being a hip hop artist is that it made me become a student of the game and allowed me to gain a greater appreciation for music in general. I've gone through a ton of albums over the years looking for inspiration that I could pull and apply to my own artistry. I could go on and on about all the albums I love and how they impacted me. However, these five projects that I'm about to discuss are what I believe to have been a time marker/staple at one point in my life.
Kanye West - Graduation (2007)
Graduation might actually be the first hip hop album that I've genuinely fell in love with. I was in 5th grade when this album came out and I remember being so fascinated with this album when I first heard it. I thought the stadium sound-like synths he used on here were the coolest thing ever and what I love most about it is how inspirational these songs are. Tracks like Good Morning, I Wonder and Everything I Am were part of the soundtrack to my life and definitely influenced my style around this time (for real tho, I had the shutter shades and the black&white scarf and everything lol). This album will always have my appreciation.
Kid Cudi - Man On the Moon: The End of Day (2009)
This album resonated with me so much because I could relate to what it was like to be "different". I feel like Cudi spoke to everyone who felt like they were an outcast/loner which made every song off this album feel as if he was speaking directly to my 11/12 year old self. Around this project came out I was still trying to find myself as an individual in middle school. Instead of wanting to fit in, Cudi reminded me that it's okay to be yourself. What made Cudi so special to me was that he had a vibe about him that separated him from every other artist that was in the game and I couldn't help but to gravitate to the uniqueness of it (and we're both from Ohio so that helps to!). Songs on this album such as Cudi Zone, Day N Nite and Hyyerr really connected with me on a higher frequency and still do to this day.
Big Sean - Finally Famous Vol. 3 (2010)
Everyone who knows me knows how much I used to play the hell out of this mixtape! I was a fan of Big Sean prior to this project coming out, but THIS mixtape is the one that really cemented it for me. When I say I can rap this whole tape from front to back I'm not exaggerating at ALL. His flow, punchlines and metaphors on here were so crazy/witty and his overall style was just so dope to me, which is also what I think influenced my overall rhyming style. It's hard for me to even name which songs are my favorites but I'm gonna try to anyway. Supa Dupa Lemonade, High Rise, Memories and Meant to Be are some of the hardest tracks on here (fun fact: the first solo song I ever put out was to the High Rise instrumental). He was spittin so much motivational shit on here man, this tape stayed in rotation for about 2 years. I started rocking snap backs because of Sean, no lie.
Kendrick Lamar - good kid, m.A.A.d city (2012)
You ever get that feeling when you first hear an album but don't know exactly what it is or how to describe it? This album gave me that feeling that I was listening to something special. To this day, I'm still mind blown about how Kendrick was able to tell his adolescent story in such a conceptual manner. This album flows similar to how a Tarantino film would because of how non-linear the story is. The album intro Sherane is literally a flash-forward into the story that he tells throughout. The way he was able to paint the picture of his surroundings while using intricate wordplay and rhyme schemes is beyond amazing to me. He made me feel as if I was in the van with him throughout the entire album. Actually, I never even knew a concept album was even a thing until I heard GKMC. Money Trees, good kid, and Sing About Me still gives me chills to this day! I relate to this album so much because I know what it's like to be a good kid inside of a mad city. Dealing with peer pressure as a teen when it came to certain situations, I know what that's like. This is the album that made me turn into a hip hop head. This is the album that made me go back and study the Illmatic's, the Reasonable Doubt's, the Ready to Die's etc. I spent so much time dissecting this body of work to figure out how he put together such a masterpiece. Never have I heard such excellent, clear and concise storytelling over modern day production. Favorite album hands down.
J. Cole - 2014 Forest Hills Drive (2014)
When I first heard this album, I knew me and Cole were damn near the same person. '03 Adolescence felt like a conversation I had between me and my older brother. He was literally telling his story and mine and the same time! Fire Squad? Flames!!! Love Yourz will always be one of the realist, more pure songs that Cole will ever have. This album dropped my senior year in high school and it ultimately got me through my senior year as well. That summer, me and my homie ended up going to the 2014 Forest Hill Drive tour in Cincinnati at the Riverbend where Cole performed along with Dreamville, YG, Jeremih & Big Sean. Seeing one of my favorite rappers perform live was hella dope but what heightened that experience was when he took the time to break down every song from the album. Listening to him speak about his hometown was almost as if he put a mirror up to my city because of the way he described where he was from. He talked to us about "hometown mentality" and the crabs-in-a-bucket concept that people tend to have in their hometowns. This album really did it for me.