Lil Durk, "Lil Durk 2X" (Def Jam)
Maybe the most telling thing about Lil Durk's new album is that it wasn't supposed to be an album in the first place. It was supposed to be a free mixtape for fans.
But one listen to "Lil Durk 2X" and it's clear that these songs are too well-crafted not to get the full push of an album release. After all the buzz that his love song "My Beyoncé" with Dej Loaf received from his previous mixtape "300 Days 300 Nights," his label smartly saw the potential in pretty much everything Durk does these days, even adding "My Beyoncé" to "Lil Durk 2X."
It will likely join a whole bunch of future hits from the album, which could dominate this summer the way Fetty Wap dominated last year. The first single, "She Just Wanna," featuring Ty Dolla $ign, takes an old-school R&B groove and adds more current beats, while describing a modern relationship quandary. "She just wanna love a thug," Ty Dolla $ign sings in the hook. "Sorry, I'm in love with money."
On "Good Good," Durk layers in some rumbling bass into another throwback R&B groove, with help from Kid Ink and Dej Loaf, who both add some memorable verses. For "Make It Back," Durk goes for something lean and hard-hitting, showing another side of his appeal, while "Hated on Me," featuring Future, shows his comfort in the hazier end of hip-hop as well.
"Money Walk," with Yo Gotti, bends the trap vibe to Durk's style, as it also lines up to start the next dance craze.
"Lil Durk 2X" shows how much he has grown since last year's well-received debut "Remember My Name," both in flow and in production. He was good then, but now Durk seems poised to be one of 2016's breakout stars.
Glenn Gamboa, Newsday
Michael Kiwanuka, "Love & Hate" (Interscope)
Kiwanuka's 2012 "Home Again" was well-received, with the Ugandan British singer's earning his share of young Bill Withers and Van Morrison comparisons. But Kiwanuka was also underestimated, due in part to his label association with strummy acts like Mumford & Sons and the insinuation that because his evocative soul recalls voices from an earlier time, this somehow made him an inherently conservative artist.
That idea is exploded on "Love & Hate," a 10-song collection that kicks off with the 10-minute "Cold Little Heart," which takes its sweet time in building to a sweepingly cinematic conclusion. Produced by Danger Mouse, the album tilts toward psychedelia, and its expertly arranged, patient songs are suffused with romantic despair. The album also speaks eloquently to times of struggle and strife with the title cut, which asks, "How much more can we tolerate?" and the effectively understated and straight-to-the-point "Black Man in a White World."
Dan DELUCA, Philadelphia Inquirer
• Hillary Scott, "Love Remains"
• Fantasia, "The Definition of …"
• Jake Owen, "American Love"
• Chris Robinson Brotherhood, "Anyway You Love, We Know How You Feel"
• Descendents, "Hypercaffium Spazzinate"
• Lori McKenna, "The Bird and the Rifle"