Music: A Time-Capsule to the Soul

You move on, and just know that sometimes the past fully goes away and sometimes it just stays inside you, in a little strange heart-shaped box.

Beach House – IAmA

It’s November 2016 and I’m parked outside KFC breaking up with the person I love. We just had a meal and even though no mention was made of the coming event, the elephant in the room was in the next booth having a two-piecer. It played out like most breakups do so I won’t go into the details.

Many tears later, I’m driving away and PPP by Beach House is playing on the radio. Like a time-capsule, the song takes this moment and buries it deep in my sub-conscious – to be unearthed with each play.

 

Music is especially good at framing moments.

In a sense, this is what movie soundtracks are for. You can’t hear Hans Zimmers “Time” without tumbling into the dreamscape that is Inception or Vanessa Carlton’s “1000 miles” without picturing Terry Crews blaring his heart out (and if you don’t then there’s something terribly wrong and you should get that checked out).

 

As Africans, we preserve(d) our culture through song. Some chronicled individual experiences while others addressed the experiences of the community as a whole. Music conveyed our history from one generation to the next for centuries until the white man came and turned everything into shit. Still, the value of song to the African didn’t dissipate.

When we’re children we gain an emotional attachment to music even before we know what it actually is. Had you asked me whether I listened to Erykah Badu before 2016 my answer would be a firm no. But as soon as I hear ‘Next Lifetime’, it’s a warm Saturday morning and I’m eight again at the back of my mum’s maroon starlet with Ms. Badu on Capital FM. I can feel the sun through the tinted window, the cold belt buckle on the palm of my fidgety hands and the calm familiarity that only comes with being in the presence of a loved one.

 

The older we grow, the more ingrained this connection becomes. You are more likely to be emotionally connected to the music you listened to in your adolescence/young adulthood than the music later on in your life. That’s what the nostalgia radio stations (Classic FM ahem ahem) capitalize on.

Conversely, we all know a number of people that bash new music for the sole reason that it is new. If you’re anywhere in my age-group, listen. Cherish the music you’re listening to now. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself at forty-five backhanded by SWAT’s verse into an emotional spiral of fleeting adulthood. Find a room to cry in so as not to traumatize the children.

This is why it’s monumental to us when someone likes the same songs that we do. Listening to music is something that we do alone so when we find someone that shares their solace with the same music, we don’t feel so alone anymore. However, similar interests do not necessarily translate into compatibility as I’m sure we’ve all learned by this point in our lives. But I digress.

The songs that unearth all these buried emotions are good for you. Especially when it comes to heartbreak because remembering it is as essential as the heartbreak itself. If you forget then cycle is likely to recur. Try it. Put your phone on shuffle and dredge out all the muck from long-lost lovers. Remember the good and the bad.

After the breakup, the opening keys of Beach Houses ‘PPP’ now play like impending doom in my head. I’m standing at the shore watching the tsunami roll in and since all my bridges are burnt, there’s nowhere else to go. It’s almost beautiful, really. The guilt hits first (why do I feel this way if I’m the one that did the breaking up) and then the trauma comes next (more concerned with feeling than reasoning why). When my bones are shattered and my soul crushed, the clouds part and catharsis finally shines through.

So I brush away the sands of self-pity and play the next song.

Image: Masashi Wakui

 

Tupac and Notorious B.I.G: A Kenyan Millenial’s Perspective

“Why do you even give a fuck about two American rappers who died the year you were born? Si you write a piece on Lil Pump?”

A friend’s little brother, born after 2000, posed this question to me.

When I was a child growing up, Tupac and Notorious BIG were constantly referenced in the Friday Pulse, my older brother and his older friends had near fist fights on who was a better mc. I’d watch Poetic Justice with my sister and Channel O would bump either ‘Juicy’ or ‘Changes’ on every throwback countdown.

If this is indeed a quarter life crisis- insisting that everything from my childhood has to mean something, let’s start with my brother’s gangsta rap music.

Esketit then.

The word going round when I first heard about this East Coast/West Coast beef was that Biggie killed Tupac and then Tupac’s mom killed Biggie. I think the houseboy told me this version, and then he taught me how to bend my fingers to make the Crips gang sign.

“Bloods wanakuchinja kama mbuzi. Crips watakutafuna kama Krackles.”

-Edwin the houseboy.

As hard as I know Afeni Shakur was, I mean, she was a black panther – it doesn’t get any more consciously hardcore than that.

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But even at 6, that sounded a little far-fetched.

Turns out, no one really knows who the perpetrators in both murders were. A cold case.

Moreover, turns out their beef was primarily the result of a series of misunderstandings and colliding male egos.

‘Pac and Big met somewhere in ’93 and were boys for the most part- they smoked weed, ogled machine guns and shared meals. Who knows, maybe if they’d hugged it out over Henessy and a bowl of Green, Pac would be on his 12th Studio Album. Biggie would be getting a BET lifetime achievement award, and they’d both be accorded the same reverence as the likes of Dre, Snoop and Nas.

Instead, these raging bulls taunted each other.

After Tupac was shot 5 times at the Quad Recording Studio lobby, Biggie dropped ‘Who Shot Ya?’, poking the injured bear like a bored cackling witch. Now, I’m not gonna speak with certainty as to whether or not Biggie ordered the hit on Pac, but seeing an open window- he couldn’t pass up an opportunity to throw shots.

“East Coast, motherfucker (Who shot ya?)
West Coast, motherfuckers
West Coast, motherfuckers, hah!”

‘Pac took this track as confirmation that Bad Boy were the ones who sent the hitters his way, telling Vibe magazine in one interview that  “it came out too fast…”.

In retaliation, Pac takes a picture with Faith Evans in the club, Big’s girl at the time, and uses that as his below-the-belt ammo, claiming that they smashed.

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That’s why I fucked your bitch you fat motherfucker

Let’s put this in context now.

I asked an African American friend who lived in New York and was attending a HBU at the time about this because by virtue of age and race, he was present in the geographical and social context of that whole drama. It didn’t shake his life, not even a jiggle.

In his words, “The East Coast and West Coast are so far away, you can say ‘Fuck the East Coast’ from L.A and then what? Who’s going to fly from New York to find you and shoot you?”

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This is an entire continent y’all

 

  1. Somewhere in Dandora. A bunch of young men are paying close attention. Kalamashaka is comprised of three members: Johnny Vigeti, Kama and Oteraw.

It started out as as imitations of American Mc’s in terms of their rugged flow and punchlinez kibao lyrical style.

The same way hip hop started as a social reflection of what’s happening in the ghetto, Kenyan hip hop became a reflection of life in the slums. English switched out for sheng. Dandora becomes Brooklyn. Police harassment stays the same.

  1. Rev. Timothy Njoya is wilding on the streets and in church, raging against the Nyayo machine. Moi is president again, going on his 19th year. Political tension sizzles like a wet fish on hot tarmac. K-shaka drops ‘Tafsiri hii’. Kenyan hip hop begins.

Tafsiri hii, maisha kule D ni mazii ninalia nikitumia M.I.C

Tafsiri hii, ingawa tuko chini bado tunatumaini. Sikiza kwa makini

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As Tedd Josiah said in the documentary Hip Hop Colony, “the hip hop beats met the Swahili lyrics.”

  1. Matatu culture is rising strong. Ogopa Deejays are dominating the club scene, dropping hit after party hit and setting the tone for the new millennium.

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The street prestige that came from associating with Ogopa Deejays is similar to the pride that came with rolling with either the Death Row or Bad Boy Records. The parties, the liquor, the girls- the staple of both.

A young man from South C wants to be a part of this. He finds himself in a room with Kenya’s reigning producer, Tedd Josiah, this is his chance. Tedd listens to the boy rhyme and then kicks him out of the studio. Who does this kid called E-sir think he is? The Swahili Tupac?

And just like his American predecessors before him, E-sir dies at his prime leaving behind his footprint on Kenyan hip-hop that can never be wiped; that can never fade.

Basically, if it wasn’t for Bad Boy and Death Row we wouldn’t have had Kalamashaka or E-sir, all of whom still stand in history as part of Kenya’s greatest emcees. We wouldn’t have Octopizzo, we wouldn’t have Camp Mulla or Khaligraph and his New York accent.

At least, we wouldn’t have them in the way that we have them/ have had them.

You see, it all comes full circle. Dunia ni Duara. It was all a dream.

BIG

Art & Its Connection to the Artist

I came across Joji when I fell down a Spotify-shaped rabbit hole some time ago. Mentally, I wasn’t at the best place so his music fit my mood perfectly. His lo-fi brand of melancholy was extremely soothing to my soul and I was going to do a feature but as always, procrastination decided otherwise.

Late last year, I meet this guy at a friend’s graduation and we get into a conversation about 88rising, an Asian label that’s been gaining a lot of traction lately. Dude asks me if I listen to Rich Chigga and of course, I do. He asks if I know Joji and again, I do. Then he asks if I listen to Pink Guy. I haven’t.

Now, for the uninformed, Pink Guy is, to put it simply, an extremely fucked up Teletubby. He does normal YouTuber things like prank videos, skits and occasionally, cooks rats.. This befouled cartoon character brought to life is a creation of George Miller who also happens to be the aforementioned artist, Joji. Turns out before Joji was Joji, he was Filthy Frank. A Youtuber I had only heard of in passing. Are you still with me? Good.

Think of the vilest, most repulsive troll you can think of and maybe then you’ll be close to imagining who Filthy Frank is. Currently, at 5.2 million YouTube subscribers, Filthy Frank embodies a brand of comedy that crosses unsettling, passes absurdist and lands right at the center of fucked up. Like a live-action family guy.

Filthy Frank and Pink Guy are both characters that George Miller plays. They exist in a universe of his own creation bound only by his rules and his moral code. They are in no way a representation of who he actually is.

This juxtaposition between Joji  (plaid-wearing mopey indie artist) and Filthy Frank (Satan incarnate) got me thinking about artists and their personas. At what point does the artist stop and the art continue?

I believe that there are roughly two ways to answer this.

You could choose to see the art that one creates as separate and distinct from the one that creates it. A parent gives life to their child but ultimately they are two separate people. The good thing about this is that it allows us to appreciate art objectively. It allows us to listen to R. Kelly without thinking of golden showers or watch House of Cards without bile seeping down our throats.

At the same time, by separating the art from the artist you’re effectively turning your back on the things that they may have done. If your favourite musician beats his girlfriend and you continue to listen to their never-ending stream of music aren’t you continuing to support them? Or alternatively, to turn this question on its head, if you boycott whatever artist that happens to be embroiled in the saga of the day are you denying the others involved in the creation of that art their due? It’s kinda like the teacher making the whole class kneel because of that one loud mouth. Is moral indifference the answer? To quote an extremely articulate friend of mine:

The art and the artist may or may not be separate, but the fact that the art feeds the artist and the artist feeds the art means that we must link them together.

This brings us to the second perspective you can choose to take in your interpretation of this relationship. Art as an expression of its creator. Whatever you create, whatever you say, is an expression of you. Everything you’ve ever said or written is semi-autobiographical whether you like it or not. The children that I will have someday will be persons separate from me but I shall continue to exist in their big eyes and lack of facial hair. Oscar Wilde puts it brilliantly in The Picture of Dorian Grey when he says, ‘Every portrait that is painted with feeling is a portrait of the artist, not of the sitter’.

If you take this view, everything is ruined for you. The moment we hear George R.R. Martin got a little too frisky with his secretary, you can never go back to Westeros. Filthy Frank and Pink Guy, despite being characters, would then be inseparable from George Miller.

There’s no clear course of action. At least, I don’t see one.

For you, is art like the bible? An outpouring of words from people inspired.

Is art like a Picasso?  A broken and true reflection of society. Or are we not meant to understand any of it?

At the end of last year, George brought Filthy Frank to an end. He explains that he no longer enjoyed producing that kind of content and that playing all those different characters took a toll on his physical and mental health. Here, the artist has brought his art to an end. The connection is now severed. I wish I could say the same about Woody Allen.

Featured Image: The Great Wave off Kanagawa; Hokusai

Depression and Music

We don’t take artists as seriously as we should.

Creating music is a process that, ideally, should come from within. This is why rappers get so much shade if they are found or suspected to be using ghost writers. It’s considered wrong because music should be an artist’s impression of their own life. If someone wrote for you the words that we, as listeners, take to be true, it feels like actual betrayal. Kendrick spoke about peer pressure and we take all of his Compton adventures to be true and solid. If we find out, years from now, that he never wrote what we actually listen to then he would lose his value and standing as an artist.

As a wide exception to this, we give artists creative freedom. You can lie and give us all the bullshit you want as long as they are your lies and it is your bullshit.  Artists can bend and will their reality as they please because that’s what being an artist means. It means being creative and telling us ordinary things in a meaningful and poignant way. There’s a very thin line between being honest and creative and letting someone else be honest and creative for you. This is what we demand from our artists. That they give us truths as long as these truths are from them. Not ghost written.

This artistic independence means that, a lot of the time, we don’t take artists as seriously as we should. Music, as myself and Chia have written about, is background noise to us these days. We don’t sit and listen to music, we vibe to it. What this means is that we end up listening to the music and not the artist. We miss their cries for help because that drop after the second verse was insane. We vibe but we don’t empathize.

Joy Division was an alternative band formed in England in 1976. Their lead singer was Ian Curtis, a soulful singer with a very gritty voice. They achieved a moderate amount of success in the late 70’s. On 18th May 1980, Ian Curtis committed suicide. Thing is, his lyrics were dark. To quote his wife after his death ‘His lyrics were dark. So very dark.’ His bandmates knew this. Because of the opaque banner that is ‘creative license’ we take these words and shove them under the carpet. We vibe but we don’t empathize. I mean, if this is not a cry for help then what is?

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Chester Bennington, the lead singer for Linkin Park, died a week ago.

I may have appreciated the artistic works of Prince and Michael Jackson and mourned for them when they did, but I didn’t grow up with them. I didn’t feel their deaths the same way that my parents did. They were not part of the culture I adore, they were only idols to it. But I grew up with Chester. At 13, I knew every Linkin Park song from every Linkin Park album that existed, I shit you not. Through their music, my angst and frustrations with the absurdity of life had a voice. Their music was loud and filled with pain but it warmed my growing soul. But, just like Tyler the Creator’s coming out, all the signs were there.

Somewhere I belong (2003) Meteora

I wanna heal, I wanna feel what I thought was never real
I wanna let go of the pain I’ve felt so long
(Erase all the pain till it’s gone)
I wanna heal, I wanna feel like I’m close to something real
I wanna find something I’ve wanted all along
Somewhere I belong

Easier to Run (2003) Meteora

It’s easier to run
Replacing this pain with something numb
It’s so much easier to go
Than face all this pain here all alone

Crawling (2000) Hybrid Theory

Crawling in my skin
These wounds they will not heal
Fear is how I fall
Confusing what is real

I’m not saying we should overanalyze everything we hear because our favorite artist is going to kill themselves. Sometimes people don’t mean what they say and that’s fine. What I’m saying is that we should listen. Show compassion. Realise that creative license is just that. James Bond has a license to kill but that doesn’t change the fact that he is a alcoholic womanising gun-toting murderer.

If you have or know a person going through something and expressing themselves in whatever creative manner they choose, reach out. Life’s a bitch and then you die but friends are friends and you will miss them when they are gone.

I started this blog to appreciate artists while I could. Chester, I’m sorry it took me this long. I hope you find peace.

When my time comes, forget the wrong that I’ve done
Help me leave behind some reasons to be missed
Don’t resent me and, when you’re feeling empty
Keep me in your memory, leave out all the rest
Leave out all the rest

Music Listened to and Music Felt 

I remember watching a Crank Lucas video on how we listened to music then vs how we listen to it now.

It got me thinking about the music I hear on a regular basis and the music I actually listen to, and what makes the difference. I think the difference is that- feeling the music- is listening transcended. It’s when the kick drum becomes your heartbeat, the bass mimics the rhythm of your breath. It’s when the hi hats or claps or snares coincide with your blinks. 

In a similar piece we did a while ago on Music Heard and Music Felt, Eric talked about how he marks the passage of time with music. How a song can stir nostalgia for a time in your life when everything was rose gold and purple hued, or when everything was shot to shit.

For example: the humid and rainy month I spent in Kilifi digging up trees and dancing in the dimly lit night with dogs at my feet, watching the sun set over the creek every night and slowly seep into my tent at dusk; the month two tiny ants nearly killed me with anaphylactic shock. That month is marked by ‘One Last Thing‘ by Clams Casino and ‘Mr. Flava‘ by Katchafire.

A couple of days ago, I came home from a short but perspective changing trip to Nairobi, I sat on a balcony with the sun hitting me square in the face and listened to ‘Walking in the Sun‘ by Fink. It’s the kind of hymn that made my Sunday morning all the more spiritual. I felt the ash of his trials in the gravel in his humming. I wiped the sweat from my brow and thanked God for the day, whoever he or she might be. At that moment, as I felt the chapter in my life change, the song wove itself through me, through my skin, tissue and bone. I listened to Fink and felt what he felt, through the lens of my own life.

Even a blind man can tell when he’s walking in the sun.

Meanwhile, in a backyard somewhere in Lavington, as the sun slowly crept away from the city, ‘Wish You Were Here‘ by Pink Floyd strummed its way through the garden and splattered itself across the orange sky. I wanted to speak but I couldn’t, the song had thickened the air, moistened my lips and dried my throat. It spoke for me and said the things I could never say but wished I could, and from the look in his eyes, he must have known this already.

We’re just two lost souls
Swimming in a fish bowl
Year after year

Running over the same old ground
What have we found?
The same old fears

Wish you were here

Sitting on a cold wooden floor on a pleasant afternoon, Harry Belafonte crooned to Juanita, his ‘Sweetheart from Venezuela‘. But what at first felt like a sweet calypso to a true love quickly became patronizing and misogynistic, at a closer listen. It threw the whole vibe of the song off. I still danced, but with a pinch of salt. I don’t care if its 1961, no señor means no, señor.

And late at night, as the temperature dropped with each passing hour, after everyone had gone to sleep and the night was as silent as could be for a city that never sleeps- ‘Molasses‘ by Hiatus Kaiyote crackled on vinyl, more poignant than ever. Things are a lot more profound at 4am.

I listened: it told me to relish in the present moment. That moment, 4 am under a snug blanket somewhere in the heart of Nairobi, feeling like everything I want and would ever need was within arm’s reach. Throw me your serene beaches, your kawaii rustic cottages, the flowery meadows, there was no where else I would have chosen to be other than there. In that moment. 4 am. Snug in love. With myself. 
As Nai Palm sang, I felt the love flow down my throat like a glass of iced lemon grass tea, soothing any anxiety I had for tomorrow and the general future. Through Hiatus Kaiyote, I learnt about the art of letting go: letting go of control, letting go of attachments that no longer serve me- attachments to things, to people. I learnt to take the moment and enjoy it for what it is at that given space and time. With every note plucked, I felt myself getting lighter; as if a boulder had dropped from my back and I realized I had wings all along, and I could fly.

It could be a compass, rare and so bountiful
It could be the opposing opinion
It could be the point of traction bound to all
It could be the point of letting it go.

I listened to it. I felt it. And it changed my life. I think that’s the difference.

 

The Black Femme Fatale 

When the word ‘savage’ comes up, you probably won’t think of her first. You would probably think of the male bravado rapper, wissa knife tattoo on his forehead and Google image results of mug shots from different angles.

That’s okay. She doesn’t brandish her knife on her forehead, her weapons are concealed but boy, do they cut deep and clean.

It did not start when Beyonce sat us down and calmly explained to us that girls run the world. However, it might have started when Beyonce became Sasha Fierce. No. When Beyonce became Foxy Cleopatra. Or when Missy Elliot and Janet Jackson addressed that ‘Son of a Gun’. Or when En Vogue elaborated that “No. You’re never gonna get it.” .

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Whenever it started, whoever it started with- the black femme fatal has been a cultural staple in music for years.

She is not to be confused with the carefree black girl,  The black femme fatale is just as whimsical as she is sinister. It’s Rihanna in ‘Bitch Better Have My Money’. It’s Sza in ‘Love Galore’. Kehlani in ‘Distraction’.

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The black femme fatale is not to be taken lightly, She is the proverbial woman scorned that hell hath no fury like. She will use and discard you with an angelic smile on her pretty face, with no apology. Do not, I repeat, Do. Not. Cross. Her.

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Key features of the archetypal female include:

-Mischief, boredom or hunger.

-Leather or latex.

-Past or present scorn that she emerged from the ashes of like a Phoenix.

-Quentin Tarantino heavy breathing.

Dej Loaf summed it up pretty well back in 2014:

Let a nigga try me, try me
I’m a get his whole mothafuckin’ family
And I ain’t playin wit nobody
Fuck around and I’m a catch a body

The black femme fatale is the female praying mantis devouring her lover post-coitus. She’s emotionally needy and insecure and fiercely independent at the same time. Affectionate and emotionally unavailable. Warm and inviting, cold and cruel. She is the reason hurricanes are named after women.

Here’s a playlist for the next time you’re feeling devious and maybe a bit violent too:

  1. Serena – Dreezy ft. Dej Loaf

2. Son of a Gun – Janet Jackson ft. Missy Elliot

3. Never Gonna Get It– En Vogue

4. Pull up– Abra

5. Distraction – Kehlani

It Was a Good Day: An Analysis

Nostalgia.

I heard this song, a song I haven’t heard since I was on the streets of San Andreas years ago. People say that rap is ultimately a form of poetry and I think this song is a clear example of that. I looked for breakdowns of it online to no avail and thus, here we have Ice Cube’s “It was a good day”: The analysis. It shall be split into three parts: The song, the story and it’s conclusion.

We see Ice Cube, the story teller, with a simple premise. What is a good day? By analysing this, I aim to find out if Ice Cube’s definition of a “good day” is an ideal, or a convoluted daydream.

 

The Song

Play this:

Ten seconds into the song, it’s pretty obvious. The music itself feels calm. It seeps into one ear and out the other. It feels. It draws and pulls back. This, literally, could soundtrack a good day.

 

The Story

Ice Cube is a certified MC. People that judge him off his film career undervalue this tremendously. He wrote half of N.W.A’s seminal Straight Outta Compton. His debut album, after leaving N.W.A, was certified platinum two months in. Snoop Dogg named him in the top three rappers of all time (then again Snoop himself was number three). His skill as a rapper as undeniable.

First, listen to the song. Second, watch the video. Since you probably haven’t done any of these two things, I’ll break down the themes in the song highlighting what, Ice Cube believes, makes a good day.

i. Peace

Peace, in a conventional sense, refers to a state of democracy, financial stability, a lack of war. Ice Cube, at the time of the song, is a young adult. These issues, while being important, do not directly affect his life in South Central Los Angeles. Thus, the peace he refers to is literal. Quiet. Calm. Serenity. A good breakfast.

No barking from the dog, no smog
And Momma cooked a breakfast with no hog

I got my grub on, but didn’t pig out

To Ice Cube, peace also refers to assurance. The life he lives isn’t 8 – 5. There is no distinct start nor distinct finish. His life is an unending game of Russian roulette. Will he be shot today? Or tomorrow? Peace to him is as simple as going back home alive.

Thinkin’, “Will I live another 24?”

ii. Friendship

This song is the 90’s equivalent of a daily vlog. If Ice Cube was an introvert, he’d shoot videos of his dog and tell us his thoughts on the new Attack on Titan episodes. However, what we can conclude from the song is that he is far from one. To him, meeting with friends is an essential part of a good day. He plays basketball with them, gambles at 12 in the morning, and they watching mindless television.

Called up the homies and I’m askin’ y’all
“Which park are y’all playin’ basketball?”
Get me on the court and I’m trouble

iii. Rush

From a personal perspective, I never want to leave home because everything outside it is unfamiliar. Driving to the mall risks panic attacks, forgotten wallets and no money to pay parking. I’m still not one for Cheap Thrills.

From Ice Cube’s perspective, an adrenaline rush is the perfect espresso to start your day with. Being still brings to satisfaction. He drives drunk, runs an intersection, anything to get his blood pumping. Do I condone this? No. But to Ice Cube, this is an important part of a good day.

Drunk as hell, but no throwin’ up
Half way home and my pager still blowin’ up

iv. Pride

The underlying theme of this song is pride. Ice Cube never explicitly mentions it but inklings of it can be found throughout the song.

He wins money gambling. The joy doesn’t come from getting paid but besting his friends.

I picked up the cash flow
Then we played bones, and I’m yellin’: “Domino!”

During a vivid, and if I may say articulately, described sexual encounter, Ice Cube makes it pretty clear of what he prides himself in.

Pulled out the jammy and killed the punani
And my dick runs deep, so deep
So deep put her ass to sleep

That night he drives home crossfaded through the clear streets of LA. Be it hallucinatory or his ego projecting through, he sees this in the night sky:

Even saw the lights of the Goodyear Blimp
And it read “Ice Cube’s a Pimp”

v. Safety

Ice Cube is a certified gangsta. Not just a gangster. But a gangsta. He wouldn’t hesitate to kill anyone that got in his way. That’s the life he lives. But underneath all this gang rivalry and false bravado rappers use to reinforce their ego’s, Ice Cube is human. Violence is a necessary evil in his life. Not a source of pride and joy. As much as he prides himself in being the hardcore gangsta that he is, he still craves the normalcy that we all do.

In the briefest yet most iconic line of this song, he says:

Today I didn’t even have to use my AK
I gotta say, it was a good day

 

The Conclusion

The actual date is disputed. People say that Ice Cube’s good day was on January 20 1992, others argue it on November 30 1998. People have analysed this and speculated using every possible detail from the song. From the weather to what time Fatburger closes. But I think we’re missing the point here. The song isn’t supposed to be about some grand public holiday that we as rap fans can appreciate. The song is an ideal. It’s what Ice Cube inspired for a good day to is. In 2015, 23 years later, he tells us that the song isn’t a journal entry. It’s totally fictional. The life Ice Cube lived meant he had to use his AK everyday. Underneath it’s warm tones and catchy lines this is a song about the life Ice Cube wished he could live. And its as simple as hanging with his friends, playing basketball and being intimate with his girlfriend.

Does Ice Cube describe your idea of a good day?

 

Ps: After writing this I realized that something similar was talked about in the movie “Dope” so this it totally not plagiarism. Great movie, by the way.

For the Love of Crate Digging: Pt I

We all listen to music in various ways. Few still buy CD’s. Vinyl’s are a thing again. Music streaming is at an all time high. And the pirates among us still sail the seas. If you’re still on that waptrick/tubidy vibe then much love to you as well. In the end, we’re all listening to the same music.

These days though, artists find other ways to put their music out there. The conventional single/album format is slowly being usurped. There’s something beautiful about it..

Youtube

These days it isn’t uncommon for an artist to put out an entire album on youtube. However, this doesn’t do much for their publicity. Ed Sheeran could put out an entire album on Youtube (which he did) but if we didn’t know who he was then no-one would really care. So, artists find different ways to get their names out there, through Youtube. If you dig deep enough, there’s a treasure trove of amazing artistry that isn’t limited to music videos. Here are a select few:

i. BBC 1/ BBC 1Xtra

This is one of the more well known channels, but to the unfortunate few, you would not believe what you’ve discovered. When an artist releases an album, they tend to visit radio stations to build hype for it. BBC 1 took it a step further and gave these artists a platform to perform some of their songs. They call it the Live Lounge. And, as a bonus, they do covers as well. What’s better than mainstream artists covering other mainstream artists? Here are some of our favorites:

 

Or:

 

And:

 

 

ii. Tiny Desk Concerts

Imagine if every week, your boss scheduled a performance for the office behind his desk. That’d be pretty cool yeah? Well, NPR did that. And they call it the Tiny Desk Concerts. Since the performances are literally behind a desk, artists are forced to be at their most minimal. This means you can’t have an entire backing choir. And, more often than not, the results are beautiful. And, at the same time, literally anyone can perform. Here are our favourites:

 

or:

 

or:

 

and, just for good measure:

 

if you aren’t convinced yet:

 

 

iii. Documentaries (The FADER & Noisey)

When you know about an artists life, you get a different perspective on their music. Wikipedia can only tell us so much. Thankfully, the FADER and Noisey have us covered on that front. They don’t do conventional interviews. Instead, they give us a glimpse into the day to day happenings of a musician. It could be through their tours, or a visit to their mothers home, or just a random trip to the supermarket. Here are our biased picks:

 

or:

 

and:

 

 

iv. Others

Here are some random picks that we thought you’d enjoy too:

 

and my personal favourite:

 

 ( featured image: the vinyl factory )

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.

 

 

Our Favourite Soundtracks

CHIA

PALO ALTO

Location: Palo Alto, California.

Adapted from a book of loosely connected short stories written by James Franco, based on his hometown of Palo Alto, California. Scored by Devonte Hynes of Blood Orange fame. The opening sounds of ‘Palo Alto’ are your first steps into this pink hued suburban teenage oasis.

Dev Hynes lays down the mood to expect for the next 100 minutes and immediately, I recognized that this wasn’t your average teenage angst. More boredom and exasperation rather than anger and sadness are experienced through the eyes of April, Teddy, Fred and Emily. As compelling as the story, what drew me in even further was the significance allocated to mood and ambiance. The color of the sky. The color of their eyes.

‘TM’ catches Teddy plucking a calm lo-fi riff in his room while shots switch between April and Teddy. Both in their rooms doing their individualised versions of what the other is doing.

As opposed to the raging up tempo music that are the norms of house parties, their parties are as laidback as the music being played. We have  ‘Champagne Coast’ from Blood Orange and ‘Ode to Viceroy’ by Mac Demarco.

A majestic film with a majestic score dedicated to finding yourself, finding yourself away from others, finding love and acceptance in true unrushed adolescent fashion.

LOST IN TRANSLATION

Location: Tokyo, Japan.

‘Tokyo’ places us in the heart of Tokyo’s bustling streets. You walk into Charlotte’s loneliness with the flanged guitars of Keith Shield’s ‘City Girl’. The Shoegaze landscapes have been painted and the smell of distorted riffs waft through. The awkward stumbling of falling in love.

Sebastian Teller’s ‘Fantino’ lets us explore Japan with Charlotte as we all search for something, anything, remotely interesting to remind us that we’re alive.

The early 2000’s were a completely different time. Charlotte is woken up by the whirring of a fax machine bearing an ‘Are you awake?’ fax at 4 am, instead of the common notification ding of a ‘U up?’ text.

Tracks aside, the sounds from one scene blend into the other. Note how the sound of laserfire slides into the coin drops and lever pulls of slot machines. The fire drill alarm. Bob’s annoying flip phone ringtone. All these contribute to the overall soundscape terrain of the film.

The age gap between Charlotte and Bob is highlighted during the silly karaoke scene at George’s where Bob picks the 1979 classic (What’s so Funny ‘Bout’) Peace, Love and Understanding, and Charlotte picks the 1992 shoegaze ‘Brass in  Pocket’ by Suede, a cover of the 1980 track originally by The Pretenders. Even with the difference in age, I could see that Bob and Charlotte are more alike than I thought.

The entire film is sprinkled with glassy dream pop synths that feel like fingernails softly scratching against glass.

The underlying message of it all seems to be  “You’re not hopeless”and this is true. You are not. And the same way the music bridges the age gap between Charlotte and Bob, it bridges the language barrier between them and the rest of Tokyo. Between us and them.

ERIC

THE PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER

Location: 90’s Pittsburgh, USA.

Often soundtracks accompany albums. They can be separated and replaced with equivalent versions effortlessly. With Perks, this isn’t the case. Anyone familiar with the story knows this. “Asleep” was the song Charlie found on a mixtape that he couldn’t stop playing. “Heroes” was the unnamed song that gave them infinity.

The soundtrack itself plots out teenagehood. “Dear God” was questioning our faith and justifying it to ourselves. “Could it be another change” was being bigger,sadder and  different.”Temptation” was being 19 and realizing that this isn’t going to last forever. “Teenage riot” was solemnity and rebelliousness. And “Come on Eileen” was fuck it, three more shots won’t kill me.

It flits and cuts through the movie beautifully. The scene at prom where “Come on Eileen” played will forever be etched in my mind. I never went to prom but in those few short minutes I felt the anxiety, nervousness, and pure unbridled joy of it. Call me sentimental but, as with all events, my life can be split into before I saw the scene and after I did. Everything didn’t seem to have the weight and permanency I always felt it had. It was seeing into your soul through someone else’s. It was knowing that there’ll always be someone for you. It was knowing that you don’t always have to be alone.

Oh and if you haven’t seen these movies, please do.

Image: Official posters for the respective films

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

 

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?