Terrace Martin is many things: a rapper, a producer, a saxophone player, among other things. On his debut full-length album, “3ChordFold” he expertly utilizes all of his skills to create one of the year’s best records. Martin, who hails from Los Angeles, has gained some attention over the past few years with acclaimed mixtapes (“The Sex EP,” “Here My Dear”), and he has built some strong relationships with some of the West Coast’s brightest and most respected.

Of Martin’s many skills, his storytelling ability is what makes “3ChordFold” a great album. Like many of his previous releases, “3ChordFold” revolves around relationships, but this time Martin uses the album’s 14 tracks to tell a story about three different types of relationships: the freeloader, the renter and the buyer. Martin finds himself juggling the freeloader and the renter until he decides he wants a buyer at the end of the album’s climax “Happy Home.”

“3ChordFold” is a special and unique album also because of its production. Handled by Martin, along with some help from 9th Wonder, Focus…, and Quincy Jones, the production is flawless and modernized blend of hip hop and jazz. Most jazz hip hop these days comes off as “retro” or an homage to the early 90s style that was made popular by acts like A Tribe Called Quest. On my personal favorite song on the album, “Something Else,” Martin and 9th Wonder are able to blend a soulful, jazzy beat with an autotuned hook from Problem. Initially Problem’s heavily autotuned vocals are pretty off-putting, but after repeated listens, there are some incredible harmonies layered during the chorus. The Wiz Khalifa-assisted “Motivation” is another great example of combining modern hip hop sounds with organic jazz instrumentation. Wiz delivers an excellent verse over the spaced-out instrumental, which includes 808s and a heavily reverbed guitar that sounds similar to the notes from Jay-Z’s “Dead Presidents.”

Even though he has a wide range of talents, one of Terrace Martin’s weaknesses is his rapping. Lyrically he is strong – not Kendrick or Ab Soul levels, but good enough to hold down a project by himself. Martin isn’t all that engaging as a performer, and his raspy vocal delivery doesn’t make him standout among other artists. Luckily he does an excellent job of masking his flaws with lush production (with a couple of appearances from Robert Glasper among other talented musicians) and top tier vocalists (Musiq, James Fauntleroy and Lelah Hathaway).

All last week rappers urgently rushed to record responses to Kendrick Lamar’s highly discussed “Control” verse. Kendrick called out rappers – even naming a few – to step up their game, and frankly all these rapper’s responses have seemed to miss the point. Anyone can write a dope verse, many people can write a dope song, but it takes a special talent to create a great album. Terrace Martin didn’t need to write a response record to Kendrick, he advanced hip hop forward by making one of the year’s best albums.

Terrace Martin :: 3ChordFold
8.5Overall Score