Do y’all remember the legendary arcade game NBA Jam? I personally think about it every day. You can’t really blame me either: it is the prime example of a flawless basketball game. It has this amazing feature where if your player makes three consecutive shots, it activates the “ON FIRE” mode. In short, this turns your player into an unstoppable basketball demon, granting him the power to drain shots from outside the arena and launch into the air and jam onto the defender’s head. It’s basically an in-game cheat code and I love it more than life itself.
Believe it or not, this phenomenon actually occurs in music as well, but it’s a little less common than when Tim Hardaway does it in NBA Jam. It appears when an artist goes on an insurmountable run, stringing great albums together like it is second nature. They’re ridiculously fun to listen to, and can turn average discographies into must-listen catalogues. They can come from a number of different sources, so enjoy as I and a couple of friends share our favorite album runs of all time. – Matthew Ritchie (@mkrwrt)
Anderson .Paak, Venice to Yes Lawd
It is ridiculously important to get off on the right foot as an artist. A slow start practically doubles as a death sentence for someone attempting to jumpstart their career. And with his first three studio albums, Anderson .Paak quickly established himself as a budding superstar with an unlimited amount of potential. With his debut album Venice releasing in 2014, the Oxnard, Calif. native established a theme of beautiful homages to the places that were formative to his growth.
It is a blistering beginning: just by looking at the album cover art, the chaotic collage of images foreshadows Paak’s audibly pleasing and eclectic sound. Each track is special and adept at grabbing your attention: from the smooth crooning on “Might Be” over an Xscape sample, the Sir-featured “Already” that allows .Paak to freely bounce between singing and light rhyming, to “I Miss That Whip,” a beautiful devotional to his ex-girlfriend’s trusty car. The album allows Paak to explode onto the scene with a colorful personality that shines through with every track.
While the following release, Malibu in 2016, has a similar theme and structure to its predecessor (it is tied together by entertaining vignettes from a surfing documentary), it’s a completely different animal. His second album can be described as his pièce de résistance and one of the best records of the decade. Where Venice was a tad more surface-level, Malibu is a deep dive into self-reflection that showcases the best of his multi-instrumentalist abilities. With his supporting band The Free Nationals behind him, Paak takes us on a meandering ride through the city of Malibu through his eyes, sharing both the highs and the lows.
The opening track “The Bird” is a glorious display of 60s soul music on which he chronicles the hardships of his upbringing. “Put Me Thru” is a ridiculously fun crescendo about pesky relationship problems that never let up. Each feature works perfectly, from ScHoolboy Q on the funky “Am I Wrong” to Rapsody laying bars over the 90s Hip-Hop sounding “Without You” (over a super fun Hiatus Kaiyote sample). As he moves into the latter half of the album, he slows down the pace and displays a tender, seductive personality on tracks like “Your Prime” and “Silicon Valley.” There’s not a single misstep or miscalculation, which is amazing considering all of the different sounds that are incorporated into the project.
The final album of this run is a prime example of two things coming together to make a perfect combination. Forget peanut butter & jelly, and forget Jackie Chan and Chris Tucker in Rush Hour. Anderson .Paak and the producer Knxwledge joined together to form the supergroup NxWorries and release the album Yes Lawd, which is a bonafide masterpiece. Over Knxwledge’s flawless sample loops, .Paak toes the line between heartbreaking and intoxicating, oozing charisma with every sung note. There are no holes in the project, but the run from “Scared Money” to “Sidepiece” is particularly amazing. The run parallels the run of his albums: they’re indomitable and full of undeniable soul that begs to be heard. – Matthew Ritchie
Drake, Take Care to If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late
“If I die, all I know is I’m a motherfuckin’ legend”- Aubrey Graham.
If you follow me on Twitter, then my favorite three album run should come as no surprise to you. Drake is my favorite artist but the arrival to this point started with 2011’s Take Care and was solidified with his 2015 effort, If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late.
I grew up as a huge Jay Z and Kanye West fan. I gravitated towards Jay because of his bravado and charisma, while finding Kanye as the most interesting man in music because of his unabashed confidence while also wearing his insecurities on his sleeve. And then along came Drake, who over the course of this three album run, managed to somehow provide me with all of those qualities in one person. He could be a rapper’s rapper on one track while also making R&B ballads on the next; somehow, both felt necessary.
These three albums soundtracked my life from my junior year of high school through my sophomore year of college, with each album having a lasting impact on specific moments of my life. High school graduation? Cut on “HYFR.” Freshman year of college dealing with the ups and downs of a long distance relationship, I probably played the first half of “Furthest Thing” a million times. “Energy” and “Know Yourself” provided the background music to Mardi Gras 2015, also known as the best time of my life.
Somewhere along the lines of these three albums Drake mastered his greatest ability, making music that is personal to not only him, but the listener as well. Providing anthem after anthem while also serving as the voice of an entire generation and that’s why this three run album is important. The biggest hip-hop artist of the last decade stamped himself as such on the backs of these three bodies of work. The numbers speak for themselves, his music speaks for the people.
Drake dropped Take Care looking to establish himself as the new face of hip-hop. When that happened, he dropped Nothing Was The Same and firmly cemented himself as one of the brightest stars hip-hop has seen. And by the time he was finished with If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late, he had such a stranglehold on rap that he started making records like “Hotline Bling” just because he could. When we look back at history and people wonder how and when Drake became one of the biggest artists in the history of music, these three albums will tell the story. Just as they have told the story of an entire generation. – Kameron Hay (@Kameron_Hay)
King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard, Flying Microtonal Banana to Gumboot Soup
While comfortably in my top 10 list of best band names of all time, King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard might not be a household name to most music fans just yet. Don’t let their low-key top songs on Spotify (“Work This Time,” “Sense,” “Fishing for Fishies”) confuse you. This band is a musical force, featuring two drummers (!!) and three guitarists crushing heavy and high-speed grooves. And they do it a lot. They are one the most prolific outfits in the industry today with 15 studio albums to their name in just 9 years.
They’ve explored genres ranging from psychedelic rock to elevator jazz to thrash metal. If this is the first time you’ve ever heard of the band, I’d recommend easing into their style with 2014’s I’m In Your Mind Fuzz. Good luck getting “Hot Water” out of your head after. By 2017, the band established its versatility, releasing the acoustic Paper Mâché Dream Balloon, the easy listening Quarters! in 2015, and the monumental Nonagon Infinity in 2016. Before January of 2017, the band promised their fans 5 full albums in the year to come, a bold and daunting task.
The first album, Flying Microtonal Banana, came in February. To record the album, the band explored the notes that exist between the notes in our standard 12-tone scale. The record shares the name of guitarist and singer Stu Mackenzie’s custom yellow guitar, which was built with additional frets. It’s melodically much more similar to Turkish folk than any other rock album, but the band enforce repetition to drive home their unique phrases. If you just got “Hot Water” out of your head, get ready for “Rattlesnake.”
Following FMB came Murder of the Universe, a concept album that told 3 separate stories: The Tale of the Altered Beast, The Lord of Lightning vs. The Balrog, and Han-Tyumi and the Murder of the Universe. It’s super weird and the spoken word narration by Leah Senior and a text-to-speech program only make it weirder, but after a couple listens, you’ll find yourself cheering when the lord of lightning defeats the balrog (spoilers!) in “The Floating Fire.”
Moving away from the heavier sounds of FMB and MOTU, Sketches of Brunswick East saw the band collaborate with Mild High Club, a vibey psychedelic jazzy group. This is the “elevator jazz” I was talking about earlier. I don’t have the jazz vocabulary to explain why, but it’s a solid project and once again showed just how many different styles King Gizzard could cover competently. “Countdown” and “Tezeta” are great breathers from the relentless jams on the previous entry.
If if there’s only one on this run that you actually listen to, make it Polygondwanaland. Once again, I’m at a loss for words as to why this album is so good. It explores odd time signatures, so 7 beats in a measure instead of your standard 4. What’s so impressive is the covert manner in which this is done. The tracks don’t have that arithmetic feel often associated with progressive rock. Instead, they beautifully depict the search for utopia and individual betterment. That’s my guess as to what the heck they’re talking about at least. I almost forgot to mention, this album is FREE. As in the band released it to the public for whatever they wanted to do with it. This has led to over 150 custom vinyl pressings of the record, each of which would make anybody with a turntable salivate. Mackenzie cited feeling bad about always putting out music and asking for money. He felt bad about how good they were at making music! Prolific and humble.
Finally, in the last month of the year, Gumboot Soup was released. A far less cohesive album than its predecessors, Gumboot is more of a compilation, featuring songs that were either afterthoughts to their stylistically representative albums or completely different altogether from the year’s previous entries. That doesn’t mean there’s any sort of drop in quality, however. “Muddy Water” is something of an Australian folk anthem and silky smooth “The Wheel” has drummer Michael Cavanagh and vocalist Ambrose Kenny-Smith putting on a masterclass in 7/4. – Nate Martinez (@njmar99)
Larry June, Very Peaceful to Adjust to the Game
What if I told you that we were in the midst of one of the greatest underground mixtape runs we’ve ever witnessed. One of which people are just catching onto, but it’s been right under our noses the whole time. One run that started in 2018 and only continues to get better. This output of great music was started by none other than Larry June; a San Francisco native, with a grind that’s only comparable to Curren$y’s mixtape run back in 2008. Larry June has been putting out projects since 2013 with minuscule fanfare, but it was one project that opened the ears to the masses and built upon this foundation.
That project was Very Peaceful. The project combined all three facets of Larry June’s flow, or to put it in simpler terms, it’s a movie with three acts. The first half is “playa lifestyle rap,” the second half is trap, and the final act is “cruising” music. Rap fans were very receptive to the first half of Very Peaceful; consequently, this became the formula and flow Larry would stick to. Any artist would be satisfied with the reception, but Larry didn’t stop dropping projects. He fed his newfound fan base with five mixtapes in 2019 alone. He garnered the services of Grammy award winning producer Cardo, who entirely produced one of his most celebrated projects Mr. Midnight. He would later release his biggest project to date, Out the Trunk, roughly two months later. The project was greeted with high praise and is considered to be one of Hip-Hop’s favorite releases from the last year.
Larry’s run was capped off by releasing his two most recent projects, Product of the Dope Game and Adjust to the Game. Summer isn’t too far away. Hopefully we will all be fine by then. The only thing I want to do is ride down the beach and listen to playa tunes by Larry June, but it’ll have to wait until this epidemic is over. – Darryl Robinson (@Markmerlot)
OutKast, Southernplaylisticadillacmuzik to Speakerboxxx/The Love Below
A music hot streak can be a tricky thing to do. You have to balance why people love you and also invite new people in. The special thing about OutKast is that they did this five times. The album run from Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik to Speakerboxxx/The Love Below is a roadmap of growth and reinvention. Throughout this entire run, Andre 3000 and Big Boi sought to give you an honest representation of their lives with each release. From teenagers in Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik to rising and representing the south in music to becoming cultural staples at the point of Stankonia. These two, with the help of the amazing Dungeon Family, cultivated a sound that continues to be recognizable far after they’ve stopped making music.
Coming off making a statement at the 1995 Source Awards, the duo released ATLiens a year after. The two created the title of the album and were told it sounded like a movie more than an album. It appears that the title acted as foreshadowing as the album weaves you into the lives of two artists in between fame and regularity. Enforcing a no sampling rule when producing, two wanted you to experience new sounds from start to finish.
The success of ATLiens directly impacts Aquemini because the group received a huge amount of creative freedom. The otherworldly aesthetic that the two had created found them in a place where that could embrace their new lives as important players, in not only Southern Rap, but Rap in general. As similar of backgrounds as Big Boi and Andre had, they couldn’t have been more different. But those differences were what made OutKast so amazing. It felt like you were listening to two sides of an epic story. At no point did it feel as though they were stepping on each others toes. In fact, it felt as though they elevating each other to greater heights.
I remember being super young and watching “Hey Ya” not only dominate the radio, but also become one of the first songs to explode on iTunes in 2003. They are one of my favorite runs in music because you can go back and appreciate their much older albums as if they were brand new. The unique Atlanta Yin and Yang that Andre and Big Boi possessed meshed so well that when Speakerboxxx/The Love Below came out, it felt natural for them to just make two albums and put them together. That’s the artistry that they held. – Bragard Kizenga (@brogawd_)
Prince, 1999 to Around The World in a Day
I’m going to be very clear about this: I could have included so many albums into this section. I had half a mind to just to turn this article into a piece about my favorite Prince albums. He was a musical demon with an artistic touch that was second to none, circumventing the rules of society and music concurrently. The early part of his discography is rife with audible memories that I love with all of my heart (I’m sorry that I had to exclude his second studio album Prince). But there is no stretch of music like that compares to that of 1999 to Around The World in a Day.
Starting an album off with the track “1999” should not be allowed. It sets the standard ridiculously high, to the point where a normal artist would have absolutely not chance to keep the pace. But Prince was no mere normal artist, as he followed the monumental party anthem with “Little Red Corvette,” a daunting ballad of equal quality and standing. And if that wasn’t enough, “Delirious” sandwiches the previous track with another obscenely fun performance. Prince was the master of containing the energy of a high-powered Baptist church service with scintillating keyboard riffs. To top it off, the range of his vocal talent is on full display on 1999, with little to no dip in quality throughout the entire album.
Prince took the momentum he created from 1999 and put it toward making Purple Rain, unequivocally one of the greatest albums of all time. Seriously. It’s not even up for debate. He once again starts with an undeniable feel good song, “Let’s Go Crazy,” over which the he and his band the Revolution deliver a musical sermon unlike any other. The track is somehow both chaotic and extremely well put-together at the exact same time, a microcosm for his entire career. The hit song kicks off the record, which somehow continues to improve exponentially. From the delightfully romantic romp of “Take Me With U,” the haunting beauty of the ballad “Computer Blue,” the eerie and sensuous nature of the rock-based “Computer Blue,” to the chaotic sexual theme of “Darling Nikki,” the first half of the album is wildly entertaining.
Just when it seemed as though the album could not improve anymore, Prince comes ripping through with the famous wailing guitar solo on “When Doves Cry.” That guitar solo is an announcement of a musical presence unlike another. As Prince chronicles the emotionally complex lyrics, the album gets kicked into high gear, elevating it to another plane. “I Would Die 4 U” and “Baby I’m a Star” connect together, acting as a bridge joining together two mega-hits. “Purple Rain” closes the soundtrack/album, and is perfect. There are no faults through the eight-minute epic ballad, as the emotional crux of the movie is supported by powerful guitar chords and beautiful keyboard guitar strings. I’m actually tearing up as I’m writing this. It trods along with such presence and magnitude unlike any other track I have ever heard. It ends up with a quasi-jam session that ends with the iconic Prince “Whoos” that stand the test of time.
Where Purple Rain was the heavy, emotional record, the next album Around The World in a Day represents another bright spot in Prince’s discography. He infuses some worldly influences to create a wildly unique sound that increased the range of genre that he could access. And it worked. It retains the same upbeat feel as some of his previous songs, without sacrificing quality. The standout track is “Raspberry Beret,” which is the quintessential love letter to the object of one’s desires. The psychedelic pop sound throws Prince back to a 60s groove sound that is quite lovely. The wildly pleasing project sounds like a beautiful summer picnic that you never want to end, a fitting end to an astounding run of albums. – Matthew Ritchie