With the summer coming to an end, I wanted to take the time to highlight three well-crafted summer album releases: PJ’s Rare, Noname’s Telefone, and Jesse Boykins III’s Bartholomew. Each project, coming from artists who are tackling music creation differently than those around them. Collectively the albums span 38-tracks filled of creative freedom, musical versatility, and wonderment. Boykins, Noname, and PJ all offer projects that speak to their distinct musicality, who they are, what they have experienced.
PJ - Rare
Rare was the first to drop of the three. It hit the net in mid-July and serves as both PJ’s debut album and a follow up to her magnetic EP Walking Around Pools; although the Atlantic Records singer-songwriter did drop some songs in between releases like “Crazy.” Similar to that cut, Rare is powerfully raw and vulnerable. PJ adds a softer undertone by framing the 11-track album as the telling of a fairytale. The North Carolina native is no damsel in distress however, and she makes that clear with her opening track “Something Special.”
“I'm climbing up the mountain/There's something special in the air/I'm running out of problems/Ain't got no time to care/How could I be careful?/I've seen the bottom and I promise I ain't scared,” are lyrics from the song’s chorus and succeeding first verse. And it’s clear from PJ’s delivery that she means what she says. She’s not afraid, she knows she’s something special. The track that follows seem to share that sentiment as it’s named “Gangster.” But upon listening you learn that although PJ is strong she wishes she could be more straightforward and less of nice guy. “Gangster” is kind of a “don’t take my kindness for weakness” track and has instrumental filled with soulful beach vibes backing it.
Coincidentally enough PJ’s third track “Can’t Stop,” is demonstrative of her hustle. With violins, drums, and some loops serving as her backdrop PJ lets us that she is going to more than get by with the rasp of her voice acting as the vehicle. PJ gives listeners a glimpse of what she’s been up against, it isn’t just a generic song about overcoming adversity. “I’m Good” follows and serves a great transition track because it shows that she’s positive despite what she’s been through. This takeaway is not the only highlight however. “I'm just a little new school with the old school mixed in,” is a line from the cut’s pre-chorus that exemplifies who PJ is an an artist. The Los Angeles transplant definitely fuses old school and new school realms quite beautifully. The word realms is used here because it more than just sounds, it’s about the culture of the music and how it makes people feel. Because I can’t tell you about every chapter of Rare in triple review you can either take my word for it, or listen to it below. (Yeah, I know the album artwork is bad a**!)
Noname - Telefone
Although Noname’s Telefone (released on July 31th) isn’t narrated like PJ’s Rare, it maintains a story-like feel thanks to its whimsical production coupled with image-provoking bars; Noname’s spoken word flair furthers the allure. Of the 10 tracks that make up the Chicago rapper’s project, only four have no features. I’ll tackle those first.
Cam O’bi, Phoelix, and Saba are on the boards for “Yesterday,” with piano, drums, and wind instruments creating a serene feel. A feel that is a great fit for Noname’s tale of nostalgia and loss. “Freedom (Interlude)” clocks in at around 3:20 and finds Noname simply letting her thoughts go. She was supposed to write a rap, but she ended up creating something else. The track that follows “Freedoom (Interlude)” is “Casket Pretty,” which is meant to highlight the effects of Chicago’s climate on the community. “All of my n****s are casket pretty/Ain’t no one safe in this happy city/I hope you make it home/I hope to God that my tele don’t ring.” These lines open the track and immediately sheds light on the worries of many Chicagoans. Some of whom who have lost loved ones due to violence, and others praying that they never do. Juxtaposed with to the all too real topic, the production here is mystical.
"Bye Bye Baby,” is the penultimate track and one of Telefone’s standouts, in my opinion. It’s a standout because it has many layers of meaning for a song that’s only 2:49. “Bye Bye Baby” seems to take on abortion. Noname gives something that usually thought of dark some light with this one. The track is like a lullaby to the unborn as Noname bars speak for the mother, the baby, and the emotions that come with making such a decision. “Some get presents before they’re even ready,” this line comes from the song’s second verse which is told from the baby’s point of view. The baby goes off to heaven and God reminds it of this simple yet, profound sentiment.
Aside from the topic and the way the song is crafted, how perplexed it makes me contributes to it being a standout as well. It’s hard to decipher whether “Bye Bye Baby” is the prelude, postlude, or has nothing to do with her verse on Chance The Rapper’s “Finish Line/Drown.” In her voice Noname raps about her relationship with her mother in addition to her relationship with God. Listen below to hear exactly where the perplexity lies.
The six other tracks on Telefone are vividly chill and real. Raury, Eryn Allen Kane, and theMIND are just a few people who assist Noname on these. “Diddy Bop” and “Forever” are top picks. Listen to Noname’s Telefone in full below.
Jesse Boykins III - Bartholomew
Noname’s Telefone and Jesse Boykins III Bartholomew actually dropped within a day of each other. Nine of the singer’s 17 tracks have features, one of them being Noname herself. Noname is recruited for Boykin’s fifth track “Into You,” which tells a story of being smitten and conflicted while latin and tribal fused sounds create the backdrop. “She’s lost in the age of living forever, he’s stuck in age of needing forever, but you never never never see it, no you can never live it all” are telling lyrics, passionately delivered by Boykins. A notable line by Noname is, “My God is the only above you,” it’s poetic and seems to have trust and love cementing it.
Another notable line comes from Isaiah Rashad on Bartholomew’s second track “Everybody Shut Up.” “Your mirror’s looking suicidal, why you?” raps the TDE signee on a cut about silencing those around you and their expectations, especially haters. The line circles in on what can happen if those voices and expectations become too much. Most importantly however, it shows how powerful self-doubt can be.
Noname and Isaiah Rashad’s contributions aren’t the only ones that help to create a perfectly imperfect track. Boykins also links with Willow Smith, Mick Jenkins, and Dej Loaf amongst others for tracks like “Vegetables,” “Nobody On Jupiter,” and “Only Way Out” just to name a few.
Aside from “Only Way Out,” my Bartholomew favorites are the ones where Boykins singing it solo. The Boykins and K. Roosevelt-produced “Kumbaya In June” is rather tranquil and seems to focus on an old flame and her re-entry into his life. “I Need You,” is the sixth track and I like the Chad Dexter-produced cut because of honest it feels. Boykins’ voice as he sings “I need you, you need me, we need we,” sounds like it’s coming from the depths of his soul and not his diaphragm. “Tomorrow” is up there simply because. “No Worry,” is the last track of the album and is honestly one of the best. Like the rest of the project reminds listeners to be free.
Before you’re prompted to listen to the project in full, I want to reiterate why I wrote about Rare, Telefone, and Bartholomew together. All of these projects are soulful, thematic pieces of art. And come from artists who crafted these pieces with approaches unique to them. PJ, Noname, and Jesse Boykins III know what they’re doing. Peep Bartholomew below.
Peneliope is hip-hop head and a closet poet. Yes, that's how you spell her name.