(Def Jam **½)
The Beautiful & Damned
As each year draws to a finale, one thing is certain: major hip-hop albums drop, and drop hard. The end of 2017 brought the release of Trump nemesis Eminem's Revival, legendary snowman Jeezy, and handsome guy G-Eazy hitting the sonic slopes. And, like Eminem's, releases from the similarly named but considerably different rappers disappoint — a lot.
Jeezy has been around for a minute ("ballin' for a century," he spits on "Spyder"), and he made the most of his plain-talking, cocaine-dusted hustler shtick without focusing too much on money and status beyond the streets. There was braggadocio, but it was about pride in one's work and love of the game. Now, suddenly, Jeezy is stuck on acting out the tycoon role with a bigger-than-usual soundscape behind him, and proselytizing about his take on current politics (with Kendrick Lamar and J. Cole, yet) on "American Dream." Not a good look for Jeez.
It's hard to believe young G-Eazy stole an idea from F. Scott Fitzgerald's 1922 book of the same name as his album's title. Yet, here he is, with his album's tale of a louche, mopey rich kid and the misery he makes for himself just by being alive. Unhappy with the "criticism, ridicule, and scrutiny" that comes with fame, G-Eazy has made a descending chord, mournfully tonal record that even happy-go-lucky Charlie Puth (on a turgid tune called "Sober," yet) could not save. — A.D. Amorosi
Tribute to 2
Although My Morning Jacket has continually stretched the boundaries of guitar-jam Southern roots rock, leader Jim James has used his solo albums to explore other textures and genres, experimenting with horns, keyboards, and funk. Tribute to 2 is a sequel to an EP of George Harrison songs that James recorded shortly after Harrison's death. It's an eclectic set of covers with the focus squarely on James' reverb-soaked voice.
Though not as stripped down as the home-recorded demos that made up the Harrison set, the arrangements are usually understated, from the spectral "Funny How Time Slips Away" to the jaunty piano accompaniment to "Love Is the Sweetest Thing" to the somber "I Just Wasn't Made for These Times." James' vocals are predictably impressive — sensitive, angelic, capable of soaring to the stratosphere in a way that recalls Roy Orbison, occasionally unhinged. The most surprising thing about Tribute to 2 is the diverse song selection, from Emerson, Lake & Palmer's poignant "Lucky Man" to Abbey Lincoln's timely "The World Is Falling Down" to the Orioles' maudlin "Crying in the Chapel." There's little that's revelatory here, but it's engaging nevertheless. — Steve Klinge
(Empire Distribution ***½)
The brightest new stars of 2017 seemed to come out of nowhere when they emerged with three entire albums between the summer and last week, even though they'd been incubating since 2012, when most of the members met via the Kanyetothe web forum and eventually moved into the same suburban Texas house. Brockhampton is a rap group composed of 14 members, seven of whom provide vocals; the rest handle production, design, and eye-poppingly colorful videos. All the members are around 21, they want you to call them a "boy band," and, oh, yeah, leader Kevin Abstract raps often and engagingly about his homosexuality, because "not enough people rap and be gay." On their third album, the outstanding production and hooks finally match the astounding lyricism of the preceding two, especially on "Alaska" and the squealing horns of the opening "Boogie." — Dan Weiss