Vibrations to send: Drake

Drake says that this isn’t an album. Neither is it a mixtape. Instead, he calls it a playlist. And this makes perfect sense.

When Views first came out, the reaction to it was pretty typical. Day 1: everyone was in awe because this is a Drake album and we don’t get very many of those, and Rihanna featured twice. After a while though, we all took off our rose tinted glasses. Views isn’t a bad album, not in the slightest. It just didn’t live up to the expectations we had for it. “Too good”, “Feel no ways” and “Child’s play” shall forever remain classics but for a 20 song tracklist there wasn’t much to it.

And this was the case because, plainly speaking, Drake was trying too hard. Nothing was the same was utterly brilliant, and coming off of that must have been difficult. He had two options. He could redo the same thing and get a good old Jhene feature or completely reinvent his sound at the risk of not appealing to the masses. He did both and this indecision is what did him in. Part of Drake’s charisma is how well he can flit from one genre to another. Have us gyrating to “Control”, crying to “Feel no ways” and trap to “Grammys”. But when you try and do this in one album, it doesn’t come off, well, “Too good.”

Drake wrote this accompaniment to More Life:

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This is Drake’s philosophy throughout the playlistViews was about proving his versatility More Life is proving his fluidity. Here, it isn’t about sick flows or hard bars. That isn’t the goal. We don’t have a lot of time on this wretched planet so we need to squeeze the life out of every moment. Collaborate with everyone. Fake a South London accent. Sample a damn recorder! More Life is a good time. I feel like Drake called all his friends and put a performance for us. It feels like Drake left all his regrets and worries behind and just had fun.

The songs themselves are no holds barred. Not like sick freestyles or massive beats. Just laid back music someone wrote on a Sunday afternoon. We have “Free Smoke” which samples the ethereal Hiatus Kaiyote and throws more subliminal shots at Kid Cudi. There’s “Passionfruit” which takes tropical house, flips it on its head, and reminds you that “Shape of you” isn’t the end of the genre. “Get it together” brings long-deserved attention to the South African legend that is Black Coffee. All the Giggs features are sewage grimy and I still can’t believe that he sampled a recorder on “Portland”.

“Madiba Riddim” would have to be my favourite. I feel like its the antithesis to “Controlla”. On a dance floor, “Controlla” is bodies gyrating, sweat flowing and sin pumping. “Madiba Riddim” is drunken laughter, bodies close but not touching, happiness pure and untainted. Like I said, this album is a genuine good time. Being a Drake album, the trap obviously has to come through. On “Sacrifices” we have a coherent Young Thug, “Kmt” has Drake on his xxxtentation flow, “Gyalchester” is What a time to be alive nostalgia.

More Life isn’t perfect. It’s too long; some of the features feel more gratuitous that necessary; the Kanye feature isn’t all that. But this isn’t an album and, thus, shouldn’t be analysed as one. It’s a playlist. Playlists tend to be too long, have songs you definitely won’t like but still find a way to accommodate for everyone.

Life is too short to not do the things you would like to do. And, should someone come collecting, at least we can say that Drake lived the life he wanted.

Rating: 3.7 / 5

 

Music and its place in my life

This article is extremely introspective so if that isn’t your jam then check out the rest of our wonderful, much more objective, topics on music.

3 – 5 a.m.

For 3 years of my life, this is when I’d listen to music. In high school, when every snippet of free time was treasure, this was my catharsis. Back then I didn’t have the convenience of an Apple Music subscription or unlimited wifi connectivity. Every week I would, through some way or form, access 350 mb bundles . These were my salvation. Youtube? Nope. Movies? Not really. But music, all the damn way. The pirate bay never had a customer as loyal as me. Every week, with the same limited internet connectivity, I’d scroll through archives of Pitchforks reviews to find what I would be listening to this week. Hate on Pitchfork all you may, but they gave me Because the Internet and I don’t take that lightly. My music exploration was extreme. I was on everything from Bring Me The Horizon to MF DOOM. From Abbey Road to Racine Carrée.

Present day

I don’t have a set time to listen to music. I don’t have two hours in my day that I can allocate to this sole purpose. Or, much rather, I haven’t allocated two hours in my day to music. Has life become busier than it was before? Not in the slightest. I could easily do this but I just haven’t. Now, I have more resources than I’ve ever had before. 350mb is my internet usage in a day. But it doesn’t mean I listen to more music and this I find horribly tragic.

My reasons are fickle. I’m always with other people. In fact, I have playlists on my phone tailored to the people that I may be with that day. Pop for the prep-school girls, trap for the OG’s, afrobeat for the alcoholics and so on and so forth. This is not to say that I don’t enjoy these genres but rather that I’m not listening to these artists or albums for genuine reasons. It’s begrudgingly accommodating for others. It wasn’t always like this. Before, it was like: if you didn’t fuck with my music, leave. Now I’m like a bartender at a music club, serving requests back and forth.

On some days I find clarity. It could be a moment, a person or an album.  When the sky is dark and all I want to listen to is The Dark Side of the Moon. When I meet a person with a genuine appreciation of music and I can play music I actually want to listen to. When I’m on Soundcloud and I find that one gem that I can hold tight. When I first heard Anderson .Paak and Noname. In a sense, I started this blog to pursue that clarity. Writing about music forces you to become more acquainted with the album, the artist and their contemporaries. It makes work of a hobby. It crystallizes this clarity. And I think I’m achieving that. But I’m still a long way off.

So thank you to my loyal readers.

My day ones.

You are the reason I do this.

You are my greater appreciation of music.

 

 

An Inch from Stardom: Big Sean

To succeed in hip hop, like in literature, you need a defining album. Chimamanda had Purple Hibiscus, George Orwell had Animal Farm, and F.Scott Fitzgerald had The Great Gatsby. Is I Decided Big Sean’s masterpiece?

Big Sean has been signed to G.O.O.D music for the last ten years (Doesn’t it make you realise how old you really are?) “Marvin and Chardonnay” came out six years ago. “Beware” came out four years ago. “I Don’t Fuck with you” came out three years ago. This is a vicious cycle that Big Sean is trapped in. Every so often he has a string of brilliant singles that fill the airwaves for months (aren’t you tired of “Moves” already?) and after his album comes out, he fades back into obscurity.

This isn’t to say that Big Sean is a bad rapper. He certainly doesn’t break any top ten lists but his lyricism is occasionally great (See: “Halfway off the Balcony”, “Jump Out the Window”). Plus, his work with Jhené Aiko (See:Twenty88) is remarkably good. The main problem is that he doesn’t have a defining album yet. He doesn’t have that one album that makes an artist great. It’s the album that brings to light how good your music may actually be. For some artists, their debut happens to be their defining album, Kanye’s College Dropout for example. For others, it may come much later in their discography, Anderson .Paak’s Malibu, for example. A defining album doesn’t just make a rapper great. It allows us to forgive them for any musical transgressions they may commit in future. Drake gave us Nothing was the same and for that we’re willing to forgive Views.

A defining album doesn’t even have to be extremely spectacular. Logic’s Under Pressure is a pretty good album, but it isn’t critically acclaimed. Regardless, without it we wouldn’t know about the many other excellent mixtapes he’s put out. Without Good kid, m.a.a.d city we wouldn’t know about Section.80.  Without Coloring Book, many of us wouldn’t know about Acid Rap.

I decided. isn’t going to be Big Sean’s The Blueprint. While this may be unfortunate, once we have Sean’s defining album, I feel like we will appreciate his music much much more. Besides, he has Jhené. What more do you ask from life?

Favourite Tracks:”Light”, “Jump Out the Window”, “Owe me”, “Halfway Off the Balcony”, “Bigger than me”.

i-decided

Rated: 3.2/ 5 

Image: The Early Registration

 

The Burning Sun: Sampha

Process doesn’t feel like an album that was just waiting to happen. It feels inspired. Motivated. Forced, you could even say. Like a journal entry of an event so cataclysmic you absolutely had to write about it. And thankfully, Sampha did.

If you think this is the first time you’ve heard of Sampha, I can absolutely assure you that you have heard of him before. He’s collaborated with Solange on ‘Don’t touch my hair’, with Kanye on ‘Saint Pablo’, Frank Ocean on Endless and Drake on Nothing was the Same. In fact, he achieved vine stardom (when this was still a thing) because of ‘Too much’ off Drake’s Nothing was the same. This isn’t to say that Sampha is some sort of puppet master, ghost writing at the strings of major artist. Sampha’s voice is just honest. Plain and simple. When the rapper is trying to make you understand his struggle, Sampha’s voice is there to highlight everything in bold. Look at Kanye’s second verse from ‘Saint Pablo’:

Cause if I’m up way too much, I’m out of touch
I’m prayin’ a out-of-body experience will happen
So the people can see my light, now it’s not just rappin’
God, I have humbled myself before the court
Drop my ego and confidence was my last resort

Wow. This is Kanye actually being humble. Not to say that he’s the egomaniac he presents himself as, but in one of the few times that he isn’t being a total jackass, he has Sampha holding it down with this:

And you’re lookin’ at the church in the night sky
Wonderin’ whether God’s gonna say hi
Oh, you’re lookin’ at the church in the night sky
And you wonder where is God in your nightlife

In 2014, Sampha lost his mum to cancer. His reaction to it fills the brim of Process and it is utterly heartbreaking. From start to finish, he bares his soul. On ‘Plastic 100c’, through the veil of outer space, he talks about how life can be when everything is changing unbearably fast:

I love those mornings, when the sun’s up
Smoking in the lobby, waiting for my name to pop up, yeah, pop up
Usually I’d run home, and tuck the issue under
Oh, sleeping with my worries, yeah, I didn’t really know what that lump was, my luck

This event hit him hard and still, right up until the end, he never gave up. On ‘Kora Sings’, he says:

A pillow on your face soaking up those tears
Who’s anyone to say you should have no fear?
A mouth full of smoke really made things clear
You’ve been with me since the cradle
You’ve been with me, you’re my angel
Please don’t you disappear

On ‘(No-one knows me) Like the Piano’, he brings the hammer down on everything he’s been feeling in three short verses. It’s a ballad, but not in the conventional sense. Not a husband to a wife or a lover to another, but a boy appreciating what his mother has done for him. From raising him to simply bringing a piano into their home.

There’s a running theme in this album: The burning sun. Sampha’s trying to escape everything that has happened to him. Running like they smell the “blood on me”. But like the burning sun, he can only run so fast, so far. This doesn’t mean he’ll stop running.

Rated: 4.1 / 5

Image: Rolling Stone

Lyrics: Genius

Music heard and music felt

You’ve definitely heard ‘Too Good’ by Drake and Rihanna. It’s a nice song isn’t it? Happy and upbeat. Like ‘Take care‘ but more positive. Well, this is what I thought until I heard this cover by The xx. Under all the glam and tropical house have you realised how this sad this song is?  Here’s the first verse:

Look…I don’t know how to talk to you
I don’t know how to ask you if you’re okay

My friends always feel the need to tell me things
Seems like they’re just happier than us these days

Yeah, these days I don’t know how to talk to you
I don’t know how to be there when you need me
It feels like the only time you see me
Is when you turn your head to the side and look at me differently

I mean, how depressing is this:

Yeah, and last night I think I lost my patience
Last night, I got high as your expectations

If you aren’t too busy singing along, then you probably have realized how bleak it all is. We don’t really listen to music these days. We feel it. I’m no saint. I hadn’t really realized what this song meant and I can probably sing it word for word (can’t we all?).

There’s nothing wrong with feeling music. Lyrics convey meaning and music (instrumentals) conveys emotion. In most of the songs you listen to, the music and lyrics go hand in hand. Feel good music goes with feel good lyrics. But often enough, this isn’t the case. Another example would be The Weeknd’s “Can’t feel my face”. On the face of it, its a feel good song about love and happiness and glamour. It was nominated for a Kids choice award after all. Well, look at the lyrics more closely:

And I know she’ll be the death of me
At least we’ll both be numb
And she’ll always get the best of me
The worst is yet to come

But at least we’ll both be beautiful and stay forever young
This I know, yeah, this I know

And it goes on:

She told me, “don’t worry about it”
She told me, “don’t worry no more”
We both know we can’t go without it
She told me you’ll never be alone, oh, oh, woo

If you weren’t aware already, he’s singing about snorting copious amounts of cocaine. That’s sort of messed up isn’t it? It isn’t a bad song, but the fact that not many people actually realized what it meant is testament to how we listen to music. If a song is catchy we tend to sing along without really understanding what the music means. He talks about this on ‘Reminder’ of his latest album Starboy when he says:

I just won a new award for a kids show
Talking ’bout a face numbing off a bag of blow
I’m like, goddamn bitch I am not a Teen Choice
Goddamn, bitch, I am not a bleach boy

This isn’t often the case. Most music goes beautifully with its lyrics. ‘No Heart’ by 21 Savage and Metro Boomin’ is a dark song with top notch production value, desolate and menacing beats and ghastly lyrics, as all 21 Savage lyrics tend to be. In this instance, the music is partly the reason why the lyrics hit so hard. Murder and debauchery meets broody and gloomy.

That’s why I feel instrumental music doesn’t get the credit it deserves. Without trivializing the entire genre, it’s largely meaningless. It’s all about the feeling conveyed. Trance makes you mellow, classical makes you contemplative, ambient hangs in the background and house makes you jump. But in the realm of pop, the lines blur.

Feel music, but listen to it too.

Image: Howls and Echoes

Lyrics: Genius

 

The Coming of Age of a Band: ‘I See You’

The xx

I don’t think you should ever call anything hard to describe. Words exist for the sole purpose of describing things. Some languages have words that don’t directly translate into others, but you can get pretty close anyway. With The xx however, you don’t describe their music. You feel it.They set the sombre mood and you can do nothing but sink into its murky depths.

Their self-titled debut album took the world by storm. No-one expected it. Least of all them. Three scrawny teenagers got into a room, made some singles, put them together and out of it came a Mercury prize, the biggest award for pop music in the UK. Jamie Smith (otherwise known as Jamie xx), Madley Croft and Oliver Sim make up this momentous trio. Each are vastly different but they complement each other beautifully. Their new album is brilliant testament to this.

The emotion and sentiment put into their music shines through from first listen. Some times as a band, other times individually. In ‘A Violent Noise’ Oliver sings about getting tired of the night life and in ‘Replica’ he tries to escape the chemical legacy set by those that raised him. In ‘Brave for you’ Madley sings about living her life to the fullest, just like her parents would have wanted. On ‘Test me’ the trio challenge each other. No-one is a saint and no-one is a sinner but “test me”, they sing, “and see if I’ll break.”

Jamie xx is the grand architect to all that has been set. His sampling skills rival Kanye West’s and he was into the steel drum way before Drake made it commercial. After releasing his debut ‘In Colour’, he came back to the xx with renewed vigour. Energy flows through their music in a way it didn’t before. Positive energy, at least.

According to Noisey:

“The record’s title, I See You, was conjured after a band outing at a Drake concert. “He just called out to all these different people,” Madley Croft laughs. “‘I see you, in the purple jumper! I see you. …’ It was really funny but you know, it’s warm, it’s affirming that you see your friend. You feel understood and you don’t feel as alone.”

The sentiment alone describes the band that the xx is. Reassuring, slightly depressed, but still looking for the light at the end of the tunnel.

Apple music

Spotify

Rated: 3.9 / 5

An Introduction to Noname

Every time I write about an artist I try my hardest to listen to everything they’ve ever released. While I do genuinely love these artists, it’s never an easy thing to do. They’ve grown and matured over time and comparing their debuts to their latest albums is like. .  the cliché apples and oranges. With Noname, I didn’t feel that at all. Admittedly, her discography isn’t as wide as A Tribe Called Quest’s, but it was much easier to digest. Something I’d highly advice you to consider.

Noname is a rapper by profession and a poet by nature. Admittedly, the two are not entirely separate entities, but listening to Noname brings out the distinction clearly. Her lyrics invoke meaning in an age where rap is more about what you have than who you are and, in a way, that makes her more conventional of a rapper than she seems. Look at the first verse from her song ‘Yesterday’ on her experiences with alcohol:

My devil is only closer when I call him back
Liquor in a limelight
Look her in the limelight

With fine wine and ecstasy
You can have the rest of me
Basket case silhouette, cigarette, internet
Check my twitter page for something Holier than black death

Another fine example from Kendrick:

All I have in life is my new appetite for failure
And I got hunger pain that grow insane
Tell me do that sound familiar?
If it do then you’re like me, 
making excuse that your relief
Is in the bottom of the bottle and the greenest indo leaf

As the window open I release everything that corrode inside of me

Now, as a sharp contrast, 2 Chains verse from ‘Mercy’:

Okay, now catch up to my campaign
Coupe the color of mayonnaise

I’m drunk and high at the same time
Drinkin’ champagne on the airplane (Tell ’em!)

Spit rounds like the gun range, beat it up like Rampage
Hundred bands, cut your girl, now your girl need a Band-Aid

While it is hardly fair to compare these artists to each other, doing so brings out their different views on the same topics. In a way, this shows the people that they are. Noname accepting and trying to escape the drug-induced lifestyle she’s living, Kendrick bringing out the peer pressure behind every night out and 2 Chainz trying to get lit. This is by no means a criticism of their lifestyles or world views but rather how they present them to their respective audiences. And to that I say, to each their own.

Noname is part of the new wave of rappers to come out of Chicago and a common factor that Chicagoan rappers have is their sense of unity. No-one brings this out like Chance the Rapper, a musician I have utter reverence for. This Christmas (well, last) he did an (amazing) mixtape with Jeremih, his collaborations with Kanye are legendary (Ultralight Beam!) and he bounces off Noname lyrics like its a Watch the Throne rendition. He brings out the best of her like she brings out the best in him. Listen to their collaborations ‘Lost‘, ‘Finish line/Drown‘, ‘The Tragedy‘ and my favorite ‘Israel‘.

Her debut mixtape Telefone is undoubtedly my favourite record from 2016. All ten songs are on my most played songs playlist in their exact order. Listening to it is routine. It’s calming. It’s absolutely meaningful. If she never released another record (God-forbid) I would not mind (that much) because I feel in one fell swoop she did all she could ever do for music (there could never be enough Noname music). Noname is wonderfully wordy and awkward and raw and this is extremely clear in her music. Telefone’s features aren’t gratuitous or pandering. They are true to her music and the person that Noname is. So do yourself a solid this 2017 and listen to it. The only thing you shall regret is not discovering it earlier.

Tell me what you think about it when you’re done.

Image: The Vulture

Colour Outside the Line

Kid Cudi is a flawed artist. But that doesn’t stop him from excelling. Or, at least, trying his hardest to.

If you were to take the albums of most artists and turn them into pictures, the collage would  be more or less cohesive. Green Day’s would be anti-establishment and political, Eminem’s would be violent and extremely elaborate but Cudi’s would be abstract. We have Cudi the Rager and Cudi the Rocker. Cudi the Rager gave us the first and second Man on the Moon and Indicud. Cudi the Rocker gave us WZRD (his project with Dot Da Genius) and Speeding Bullet 2 Heaven. While a large part of his fanbase is with the former, this project brought the two together.

Growing up, I didn’t have the privilege of having my music tastes nourished by Illmatic and Reasonable DoubtAll I had was So Far Gone and Man on the Moon. These records established a lot of the music I listen to now and for that I shall forever be grateful. With Passion, Pain and Demon Slayin’, Cudi is doing the same thing for this generation. He could have given us Man on the Moon III, another rock album (that we can live without) or just stick to acting. Instead, he grew. He isn’t the man on the moon. He is the man on jupiter; A planet with 67 moons. Because of him we have Travis Scott, Raury and, arguably, Kanye West.

This record is a return to form. The brilliant singles ‘Frequency’ and ‘Surfing’ plot out the album trajectory pretty well, ‘The Guide’ is as psychedelic as ever and ‘All In’ is the Mike Will Made It persona that you didn’t know existed. While I’m typically not fond of albums  longer than 13 songs, Cudi has done it brilliantly. We have more Andre features that we know what to do with, a Willow Smith duet that absolutely kills it and a masterful feature from his spiritual twin, Travis Scott.

Cudi bears his soul to us. His fractured soul. His volatile soul. As he says in ‘Swim in the Light’, you could try and numb the pain but it will never go away. Cudi is an artist not afraid to embrace emotion but wise enough not to check his girlfriends phone when she’s in the bathroom. This last few years haven’t made been easy on him. His breakout single ‘Day ‘n’ Nite’ is still his most successful single, the reception for his last project was utterly atrocious and depression has been at the forefront of his existence but instead of cowering in the shadows, he brought all of them together and gave us this.

Maybe we should live our lives like Kid Cudi. Colour outside the lines a bit more.

Rated: 3.8 / 5

 

Artistry for artistry sake

J.Cole doesn’t need to go platinum (with no features) again. I don’t think that’s what he wants. I don’t think that what 4 your Eyez Only was made to achieve.

Cole is a rapper in the strictest sense of the word. I think that’s why our generation appreciates him so much. We want our very own Nas to look up to. While it is true we have Kendrick and Drake in the midst of all of that; With Lamar, not enough people have the patience to delve into the murky brilliance of his work; With Drake, too many people are still playing ‘One Dance’ and ‘Controlla’. In other words, we take them for granted. J.Cole finds the middle ground and this comes out clearly in 2014 Forest Hills Drive. Despite the weak reception that it got, there are shrines dedicated to it in every millennials playlist. The pubescent sexual intensity of ‘Wet Dreamz’ resonates with many, ‘Apparently’ was catchy enough for us and ‘G.O.M.D’ was deliciously provocative. But 4 your Eyez Only is an entirely new game.

J.Cole is real on this album. The point of not having features isn’t to show us that 2014 Forest Hills Drive wasn’t a fluke. Why would he want to do that? J.Cole really doesn’t care what the world thinks of him. The internet explodes every time he breathes but he really isn’t on twitter. All Cole intends to do is say what he feels and to do that he needs space to breathe.

The theme of this album is the life and death of a friend. In a broader sense, it’s the bittersweetness of life. Love, resentment, pain, loss and all that comes with. ‘Immortality’ is about doing the things we have to do to keep ourselves and those that we love alive. ‘She’s Mine Pt.1 & ‘Pt.2’ are about the emotions we feel for those we care about despite the places we come from. ‘Foldin Clothes’ is about the joy that comes from the simplicity of a relationship. ‘Neighbors’ is about how far we can go but still be held back by society and it’s beliefs of our ethnic identity.

My work isn’t to interpret music, it’s to appreciate it. That’s what Cole wants you to do. Forget that this is the guy that went double platinum with no features. Listen to the guy that lost one of his closest friends. Listen to the guy that just became a father. That’s the guy that he wants you to listen to.

Oh, and that J.Cole/ Kendrick album is on the way.

Rated 4.2 / 5

A case for “Awaken, my love!”

I like people that are more than they are beyond the surface. People that you can’t analyze from a single facet. People that are unapologetically themselves. Donald Glover, being a stellar example.

Donald Glover is many things to many people. Troy (Community), Earn (Atlanta) or Childish Gambino. On this new record, many people think that he doesn’t sound like himself. Or rather, the Childish that they know. The Childish that they wanted. I think that he went a step further. This is the Childish that we didn’t expect. The Childish that, quite honestly, I’m thankful for.

Let’s start with Atlanta. I think it’s an offense not to have watched this show. Its brilliant. Funny without being obnoxious. The laugh track is you and I and half of the punchlines aren’t bazinga. It’s like Louie but on orange kush. I hadn’t realized this until after listening to the album but the music style that Childish took in this new record wasn’t a total surprise, if you listen to the songs on the series. Maybe he meant to mislead us. I mean, the varying theme songs were all hip-hop like Sage the Gemini’s “Gas Pedal” and “Law” by Yo Gotti. But then, underneath that all, we have gems like “New Person, Same old Mistakes” by Tame Impala, “Space Song” by Beach House and, the glorious “Change of Guard” by Kamasi Washington. These songs, and many others in the series, showed us that we probably weren’t going to get the Gambino that expected. And listening to this new album, that isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

Childish Gambino has always had an extraordinary vision. His last album, Because the Internet, had an entire screenplay. In fact, the album was the soundtrack to the screenplay! It’s a masterful piece of writing. In it, Rick Ross plays his father, Chance the Rapper a friend and Jhene Aiko a love interest. Even though this is all limited to our imagination, isn’t all literature? You really should read it, it’s quite worth it.

According to an interview he did, the album was inspired by the music that his father and him loved and, listening to the entire album, you can tell that his muse is his son. I mean, Me and Your Mama? That’s either the prelude to an insult or an ode to a child. I could analyze the album track by track but I don’t want to. The album, just like his conception of family, is united. It isn’t simply a collection of singles, which many albums these days are. We do have standouts like “Redbone” but I don’t think it would have the magnificence that it has if were it alone.

Funk music expresses itself through its sheer musicality. Childish is a rapper and what he’s done in his career is express himself lyrically. The shift from that to this is pretty extraordinary and anyone that thought Camp was amazing (looking at you Pitchfork) knows that Childish is an extraordinary writer. He did write for 30 Rock after all, one of the best sitcoms of the decade. This isn’t to say that being a screenwriter makes you a rapper by default. What I’m saying is that Childish has a way with words and moving from that to all the vivid sounds on his new project was a chasm-spanning leap of faith and I can say with utter conviction, that he landed on the other side.

A week or so ago a friend wrote on their twitter feed that their favorite Childish Gambino song was “Me and your mama”. At the time I thought that was a pretty pretentious thing to say, seeing that it really didn’t sound like Childish. But after spending all week listening to it, drunk, sober, sad, happy, I really couldn’t agree more.

This album is a cosmic trip and it would be a tragedy to miss it.

Rated: 4.0 / 5

An Introduction to A Tribe Called Quest

As all my blog posts have started so far, Phife Dawg died recently. If you do not know who this is then you will know him and miss him just as much as we all did by the time you’re done. A Tribe called Quest isn’t A Tribe Called Quest without Phife. Because of them we have Chance, Logic and the ever tumultuous Kanye West. In paying reverence to one of the greatest and most revolutionary hip hop groups of all time, this post shall look at their amazing (and relatively not so amazing) albums with the hopes that you realize what the world lost this year.

I could tell you about their origins but we have wikipedia for that. If that’s too long for you then all you need to know is that Q-Tip and Phife Dawg both grew up in New York. Q-Tip originally teamed up with Ali Shaheed Muhammed, another pioneer of the group and all four made an ep with Jarobi White, the least present member of ATCQ.

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Their first ep featured songs that eventually made it onto their debut album, Peoples Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm. As far as hip hop debut albums go, this was a masterpiece. If you can remember, the early 90’s was was saturated with gritty rap.  Gritty like Ice Cube’s AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted,  N.W.A’s 100 Miles and Runnin’ and Public Enemies Fear of a Black Planet. Along with groups like the Jungle Brothers and De La Soul, ATCQ brought alternative hip hop into the running. Hip hop was moving from gang shootings and vivid descriptions of sex to unfortunate road trips and girls that remind you of the peach emoji. Songs I’d suggest are ‘After hours’, ‘I left my wallet in El Segundo’ and my personal favorite, ‘Can I kick it?’

This is far from the groups best work, especially in regards to Phife’s rapping skills, but it certainly gave a glimpse of their vision.

 

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Onto my favorite ATCQ album, The Low End Theory. I could write an entire thesis on this album, but I shall have to limit myself if i’ve kept your attention so far. If you check that side section on their wikipedia page, you will see that one of the genres ATCQ is known for is jazz rap. What comes to mind when you hear that? Kendrick maybe? Well, never did this genre come out more clearly than in The Low End Theory. The album is littered with jazz samples. Not the pretentious Kenny G cd that your dad has on repeat but jazz pioneers like Art Blakey and Jack DeJohntee. Names whose greatness means nothing until you listen to the album. ATCQ itself upped their game with this gem. A month prior to the release of the album, Phife was diagnosed with diabetes and thus, while Peoples Instinctive Travels and Paths of Rhythm was largely  Q-Tip’s showcase, Phife played a bigger role in the album. His verse on Buggin’ Out is one of my favorite verses in hip hop. Compare it to Can I kick it? It’s like Chrysler to Bentley. Beats to Bose. Bing to Google. Worlds apart.

The songs I’d suggest from The Low End Theory include ‘Excursions’, “Buggin’ Out”, ‘Verses from the Abstract’, ‘Butter’, ‘Vibes and Stuff’, ‘Check the Rhime’, ‘Jazz (we’ve got)’ and ‘Scenario’, featuring one of the most referenced verses from Busta Rhymes.

 

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There’s a lot of conflict as to what ATCQ album is the best. To any sane person, it’s obviously the The Low End Theory. But a fair number of fans think its Midnight Marauders. This album came two years after The Low End Theory to critical acclaim. ‘Award Tour’ and the ever laid-back ‘Electric Relaxation’ are two of their biggest hits. Personally, and shamefully, I didn’t listen to this album until a few weeks ago. It was one of those things where you want to listen to an entire artists discography but you get to one exceptionally good album and stop there. I didn’t know that Logic took the idea for his Under Pressure guide (another exceptionally good album) from the Midnight Marauders. I didn’t even know that Chance the Rapper sampled the beat from Sucka Nigga for Acid Rap. I guess this brings out the lasting effect of good music. The songs I’d suggest are ‘Award Tour’, ‘Sucka Nigga’, ‘Midnight’, ‘Electric Relaxation’, ‘Oh my God’, ‘Lyrics to Go’.

 

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Following their stellar album hat trick, cracks began to show. Their next cut, Beats, Rhymes and Life came three years after Midnight Marauders. In that time, Q-Tip and Ali Shaheed honed their production skills by forming The Ummah, a production group featuring them and Jay Dee (later known as J Dilla , an extremely big deal in hip hop) while Phife worked closely with TLC. Oh, and Q-Tip and Ali converted to Islam. It understandable that at this point Phife began to feel left out. There’s an entire documentary on this troubled period. As for the music, it was noticeably darker. Note that I haven’t said worse. The problem is that ATCQ were playing a role their fans weren’t cool with. They had moved from the playfulness ‘I left my Wallet in El Segundo’ to the needless bravado of ‘Phony Rappers’, which to me sounds like a less masterful version of Outkasts ‘Two Dope Boys (In a Cadillac).’ Also, the album featured Q-Tip’s cousin, Consequence, quite prominently. Listening to the album you can tell how Phife struggles to flow with Consequence as easily as he had done with Q-Tip for so many years. There’s so much that could be said about this album. If you’re still interested, Questlove did a pretty comprehensive article on it way back when. Songs I’d suggest are ‘Get a Hold’,’1nce Again’,’The Hop’,’Keep it moving’,’Stressed Out.’

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Some time prior to the release of their next record, ATCQ announced that it would be their last. The Love Movement closed the chapter on the greatest hip hop group of that decade. As is common in hip hop, this was brought about by label conflicts. The record, however, doesn’t place very highly among their better albums. It’s been criticized for being minimalist. Not in the way that The Low End Theory was but less … masterful. At this time, it was getting more and more expensive to sample songs. This could be a likely factor in the quality of The Love Movement. But then again, ATCQ were making bank for quite a while. This isn’t to say that its a bad record, it’s just not as good as their earlier work. In a sort of ‘I miss the old Kanye’ way. The songs I’d suggest would be ‘Find a Way’,’Steppin it up’ and ‘Give me’.

This was the last ATCQ cut for a while. The members went solo and met occasionally for reunion performances. Mostly to provide for the rising costs of Phife’s diabetes treatment. Q and Phife had many conflicts during this time. However, reconciliation came on the 25th anniversary of Peoples Instinctive Travels and Paths of Rhythm. The group came together like never before. Q, Phife and even Jarobi bounced off each other like it was 1990. This camaraderie gave ATCQ the motivation to give their fans the send off that they always deserved. They decided to reunite for another album.

 

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The band was back together. Ali Shaheed was working on the Luke Cage soundtrack while Phife was working on his own solo stuff. They dropped all of this and put everything into the music. As put by a (must-read) New York Times article on the album, Q-Tip believed that what Phife was working on wasn’t just the new cut, but repairing their fractured relationship. Everything was coming up ATCQ for the legendary group.

In the middle of their sessions, Q-Tip sent Phife a sample of a beat he wanted him to hear. Phife, eager to get his verse on this track, said he’d work on it. A few hours later, Phife’s manager called. He had passed on. The 2016 death rampage continued.

The entire group was distraught. Phife, the five-foot assassin, was gone. The member that got the band back together. The heart of the band. The right limb to Q-Tip’s left.

The adhesive holding the band together was gone. Instead though, we got one of the best albums of 2016. If anything, this united ATCQ even more. We got it from here … Thank you 4 your service is a masterful cut. It doesn’t try too hard to be modern or experimental. It sounds just like an ATCQ album should. We have the political aggressiveness of ‘We the People’, the playfulness of ‘Dis Generation and the lyricism of ‘Kids’. We even have contributions from Andre 3000, the ever present Busta Rhymes, Kanye West, Elton John, Jack White, Anderson .Paak and Talib Kweli. A grouping as strange and as varied as The Breakfast Club. And it all works. Kendrick complements ‘Conrad Tokyo’ without drawing too much attention, Anderson .Paak’s soul fits into Phife’s grit in ‘Movin Backwards’ and Jack White’s riff’s mellow Q-Tips rhythm on ‘Ego’.

This is ATCQ’s last album. In a way, that isn’t a bad thing. As someone put it on reddit, it’s like the Breaking Bad Finale. It left you satisfied. You understood that this was the end and this had to be the end. It wasn’t too abrupt or suspenseful. We lost Phife and this means ATCQ had to go. We got one more record though, and as Q put it ‘the understudy for the star, the show must go on.’

Here’s YouTube playlist on the songs I’ve mentioned so far.

Image: The Source

 

Why this blog exists

Leonard Cohen died this week. If you don’t know who this is, no-one blames you. I barely knew who he was. I think he had a song on the True Detective series soundtrack but I’m not too sure. That’s pretty much the extent of my Leonard Cohen knowledge. And I think that’s an absolute tragedy. Considering that this is the man that wrote ‘Halleluyah.’ That one christian-ish song you know all the words too.

It keeps happening this year. When Bowie died (you’ve definitely heard about him) I felt bad that I hadn’t appreciated him to the extent that he deserved to be appreciated. I mean, I had listened to his greatest hits but I don’t think that counts. It’s like saying you know an author because you’ve read their best chapters. Sure, that’s pretty valid, but it isn’t nearly enough. The same for Prince. I hadn’t even heard Purple Rain man!

In starting this blog, I want to give you (and me) a reason to explore great artists. Not just those on the verge of death but everyone. From soundcloud rappers to bourgeoisie (or boujee) composers. From the young to the dead. So lets do this in the hopes that the next time we want to commemorate a legendary musician on twitter, we don’t have to google their lyrics first.

Expect reviews, an in-depth analysis on the punk movement before the Sex Pistols and why Madeintyo may be the future of trap. I’m kidding about one of those.

Or am I?