Me and my Nibbling Conscience: Life Lessons from Earl Sweatshirt (Part I)

Honesty as Catharsis

Good grief, I been reaping what I sowed

-Earl Sweatshirt ‘Grief‘.

I almost died twice last year. But what do we say to the God of Death?

The first time I nearly died, it was five a.m on a Monday morning and I was on my way home completely off my rocker. Five hundred meters from my destination, I lost my fight to the alcohol-induced sleep. The car hit a curb a meter of the ground, the impact spun it around and my sobriety instantly set in when the back wheels ascended the same curb. I came out physically unscathed.

The second time I nearly died, it was 2 a.m on a Sunday morning and, again, I was on my way home. My judgment impaired, characteristically, I took a sharp turn at an unadvisable speed. The car flipped through the air like a sous chef with a pancake and landed inches from a ditch. I came out physically unscathed.

At this point, you’d assume these near death experiences would have left me with some wisdom. Or impart some common sense, at the very least. Drive slower. Drink less. Maybe try and be responsible? What I didn’t know was that the hardest person to be honest with is yourself.

Why ain’t nobody tell me I was sinkin’?
Ain’t nobody tell me I could leave

-Earl Sweatshirt ‘Shattered Dreams‘.

The scars were all on my psyche. It hurt to wake up. The insignificance of these near death experiences really got to me. I vividly remember flipping through the air. I always assumed this would be the grand moment where my life flashed before my eyes. Opening credits; my emergence from the womb; the time I got my first tricycle and refused to get off it for two days; making out with my best friend under the sheets; falling from my bike and breaking my arm; my first crush; closing credits. Nothing of the sort happened. The only thought that passed through my mind was, ‘Fuck, my dad is going to be so mad if I die.’

I kept waiting and waiting. All this had to mean something. It had to! Don’t people suddenly turn their lives around and pursue their heart’s desires? Climb Everest, cross the English Channel and take up knitting? But that’s where I was wrong. Encountering death doesn’t mean leaving with a gift bag of resolve.

 

The Necessity of Vulnerability

Try to make some sense of all this shit in my brain
One foot stuck in a tar pit of my ways

-Earl Sweatshirt ‘Solace‘.

It took me a while to come to terms with these events. At first, I dealt with it the way I dealt with everything prior. Avoid sobriety like the plague, act like everything was fine and run in the opposite direction if anyone saw through my facade. I thought that, because of everything, my lust for life would grow stronger. I’m barely halfway through my bucket list, I’ve never had a cat and I still haven’t seen Coldplay live.

We stay on your ass
Your sense of safety melt in a flash, bang

-Earl Sweatshirt ‘December 24‘.

Instead, it had the opposite effect. If my existence is so uncertain then what’s the point of it all? Do I need to look both sides when I cross the road? Wear my seatbelt? Avoid stepping on cracks? I didn’t know it at the time but this is was an existential crisis manifesting itself in my head.

“You die and then you live, huh?”
Your heart and then your limbs break

-Earl Sweatshirt ‘December 24‘.

On the first day of 2019, it all came crashing down to earth. “Who knew that not dealing with trauma had its repercussions?”, he said jokingly. For the next three days, I couldn’t sleep. My mind was a pressure cooker. A cork no longer sealing its champagne. A can of coke dropped on the ground, it’s contents sputtering out uncontrollably. Eventually, I got some sleeping pills and had my fleeting sanity restored.

 

To Have a Home is Not a Favour

And I don’t know who house to call home lately
I hope my phone break, let it ring

-Earl Sweatshirt ‘Faucet‘.

The next day I came out to my parents. My staunch Catholic parents. I had never confided to them to this extent. The only time this topic was ever broached was when I was eleven and my dad found me under the sheets with my best friend. Keeping everything to myself only let my mind spin round and round in circles until I began to doubt my own sanity. Everything was so close to my chest I couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t keep it all to myself anymore.

Thankfully, I still have a roof over my head.

Can you see them now?
stumble from nowhere
to no
where
between
nothing
and nothing
I should just borrow
the rememberer’s voice again
while I can and say
to have a home is not a favour.

-Keorapetse Kgositsile ‘Anguish longer than sorrow‘.

Ctrl: SZA

SZA (pronounced Sizza) is a normal girl and this is what makes her unique.

When we look at most female artists, we give them this dignified reverence. Lana Del Rey is the 50’s incarnate, Rihanna is queen and Beyonce, a deity. These artists live and exemplify this lifestyle. Rihanna walks out of her home and the world comes to a stop. Beyonce has twins and there’s a new royal family. We will love Lana when she’s no longer Young and Beautiful. These things are a given. But SZA? She’s perfectly ordinary.

That is my greatest fear
That if, if I lost control
Or did not have control, things would just, you know
I would be… fatal

On Supermodel (produced and co-written by Pharrell) she says:

I could be your supermodel if you believe
If you see it in me, see it in me, see it in me

SZA doesn’t want a Vogue cover. These aren’t the things to sate her insecurities. All she wants is for the person she loves and cares for to see her for what she could be. She’s been fucked with and left alone but all she needs is for that to be seen. It is painful and it is sad but it’s true.

In a way, aren’t we all like this? Our life’s achievements are never for the entire world. Just for the one person we do them for. When this one person doesn’t recognise them, then it hurts.

On Doves in the Wind, she wields her sexuality like a weapon. On his verse,Kendrick says:

Niggas’ll lose they mind for it
Wine for it, dine for it—pussy

We all know guys that have gone to extreme lengths for sex. At the same time, we know guys that disappear as soon as they get some. This isn’t cool and SZA doesn’t vibe with that. We should all be more like Forrest Gump, she says. Girls deserve the whole box of chocolates.

Again, all SZA wants is acceptance from the person she loves. On Drew Barrymore she gives us the best verse on the entire album:

I’m sorry I’m not more attractive
I’m sorry I’m not more ladylike
I’m sorry I don’t shave my legs at night
I’m sorry I’m not your baby mama
I’m sorry you got karma comin’ to you
Collect and soak in it right

Don’t change a thing SZA. He doesn’t deserve you anyway.

The Weekend is the reflection of relationships in the 21st century. Side chick is as common and acceptable a phrase as avocado toast.

You’re like 9 to 5, I’m the weekend is now the default Instagram caption for 2017.

 

On Broken Clocks, SZA summarises the entire album in a verse:

All I got is these broken clocks
I ain’t got no time
Just burning daylight
Still love and it’s still love, and it’s still love
It’s still love, still love (still lovin’), still love
It’s still love but it’s still love

Nothin’ but love for you (nothin’ but)
Nothin’ but love (nothin’ but)
Nothin’ but love

She knows she’s imperfect. She knows she has her flaws. This doesn’t stop her from loving and loving hard because despite everything this is the one thing she has. Pure unrequited unending love.

She gets cheated on. She’s insecure about her body and she doesn’t understand why anyone won’t love her.

SZA is us and we are SZA.

 

PS: In Supermodel she says:

Let me tell you a secret
I been secretly banging your homeboy

Apparently she hadn’t already told her ex-boyfriend this. Does it get more savage?

Image: Hypebeast

Rated: 4.6 / 5

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.

Everybody: Logic

Life. What’s it all about?

In this project, Logic raps from several perspectives. Logic is everybody, everybody is him. We follow Kai and Thomas where they left off last album, on their trek through Paradise, as Logic serves not only as their walking music, but also as their existential reference guide.

Next, we meet Atom, who dies in a car crash at the end of ‘Hallelujah’ and finds himself in purgatory with Neil DeGrasse Tyson God. God informs poor Atom that he’s dead, lets him freak out over that fact a little and then they go in to discuss the meaning of life and existence as we know it. Cue Logic.

Logic confronts the conflict he’s always had with being biracial in a world that’s either white or black. He sees the inequality of it all and he doesn’t understand because these two unequal sides are literally two equal sides of him.

Damn, my skin fair but life’s not

He doesn’t understand why people are so cruel; why they mistreat each other like our differences are irreconcilable. Why can’t we just let people live and do whatever they want so long as it doesn’t hurt anyone?  Why can’t we all just get along and exist together?

The bottom line is love and self acceptance because if you can’t love and accept yourself for who you are, who will? All it takes is a butterfly effect and you could easily have been him and she could have been you.

Atom: So what now? What advice can you give me ?
God: What advice can I give humanity?
Atom: I suppose so
God: Live your life. Don’t waste your days on the negative energy of others. Remember that you’re not your salary. You’re not your house. You’re not your car. And no matter how big your bank account is, your grave is six feet under just like everyone else’s. So enjoy the days you have. Worry not bout the days that came before you. Nor the ones that will follow you in death. Remember that right here in this moment is all you are guaranteed, and the fact that you are living is what life is all about. So live your life to the fullest, according to your happiness and the betterment of all

 

“1-800-273-8255”  is the phone number for the USA National Suicide Hotline and the title of a song sung from the perspective of someone who’s hit rock-bottom and feels like they do not have the strength to crawl out. Life is hard, especially for the living, but sunrise is never too far away. Somehow, someway, it always gets better. Please don’t give up. (Featuring Khalid and Alessia Clare)

About ‘Black Spider-Man’ Donald Glover should be spider man. Idris Elba should be James Bond. That’s it. I don’t understand why these things haven’t happened yet.

“Afric-Aryan” sums up the theme of the album and is the fireworks that shine the light on how good of a lyricist Logic actually is. Featuring another Afric-Aryan rapper- Clue: he went double platinum with no features.

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Although it sounds all over the place and somewhat defensive sometimes: It’s true that Logic can pass for straight up Caucasian so that may have given him some white privilege but that’s not the point. Remember, at the end of the day, it’s Logic’s story to tell. Not mine nor yours but in a sense too, ours – it’s everybody’s. And it does what it’s meant to do: It makes us feel okay about not feeling okay.

Please make Childish spider-man.

Rated : 4.1 / 5 

 

ALL-AMERIKKKAN BADA$$: Joey Bada$$

If To Pimp a Butterfly is an art gallery showcasing the plight of the African American, then ALL-AMERIKKKAN BADA$$ (AABA) is a bare-fisted, profanity riddled, tear gas filled protest.

To every soul that harkens to an age where hip hop was “real” and “pure”, Joey Bada$$ came like the messiah. Considering that his hometown, Brooklyn, gave us Jesus himself, Notorious B.I.G. To many, he came not to save our souls from immortal sin, but to put the rap back in hip hop.

B4.DA.$$ is an undeniable classic. Think about it. Like all classics: It was underrated for an unbelievably long time, it came from (at the time) a relatively unknown rapper and the production value is insane (J Dilla, Hit-boy, The Roots). If you think about albums that got the same treatment, you’d have Control System, Acid Rap, Too High to Riot, among many others. The question is, does the same apply to AABA?

Joey is as patriotic as it gets. This shines through in AABA. It’s a protest album in the strongest sense of the word. The system is rotten. You could lose your life if you look at an officer the wrong way. So, like Green Days American Idiot, he decided to do something about it.

In the land of the free, it’s full of free loaders

Leave us dead in the street to be their organ donors
They disorganized my people, made us all loners

Still got the last names of our slave owners

If Brooklyn had a national anthem, it would be “Land of the Free”. If North America had a national anthem (which it does but I choose to ignore) it would be AABA. The album itself is masterful. Joey’s lyricism ebbs and flows beautifully, Kirk Knights beats hit hard and swift. Most of the tracks, surprisingly enough, feel like cuts off of Ice Cube’s AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted. Hard and legitimate rap music. Very reflective of 90’s hip hop, but not in a way thats pandering. As Kendrick once put it, in fact:

Everybody want to talk about who this and who that
Who the realest and who wack, or who white or who black

Critics want to mention that they miss when hip hop was rappin’
Motherfucker, if you did, then Killer Mike’d be platinum

Some tracks don’t feel as cohesive as the rest of the album. “Devastated” for example. But, strangely enough, Joey justifies it. He says:

a lot of people were thrown off by the two smoke screens I put out before called “Devastated” and “Front and Center.” I like those records. But to me, they were more like bait music. People gotta understand, when you’re an artist, you got your core. Then I look at it like there is many rings around that. Like circles.

Does this make the album a classic? I honestly don’t know.

Does this make the album good? Most definitely.

Image: Album art

Rated: 4.2 / 5

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:

FullSizeRender

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

 

No Ad Libs: Barak Jacuzzi

Produced by Brakxx. Contrary to the title, Barak Jacuzzi does have an ad-lib: “More Juice.” And true to its spirit, this track is 100% juice. Not diluted. Juice from the cup.

The young Kenyan-American entertainer put on his rap hat, pulled up and took his seat. Not asking. Taking.

‘No Ad Libs’ stirs up sensations of basement parties. LED lights. Sweat and hype and molly fueled energy. He noticed you sleeping on him and decided to do you a favour and wake you up. The bass will hit you first. You won’t see it coming.

The tribal elements of the track and the drill trap style of the song complement each other generously and every now and then his tongue dips into Kenyan Sheng in a manner that may just put it in the same league of street lingo cool as Jamaican Patois.

He carries an A$AP Rocky-esque self confidence that somehow, for reasons yet to be understood, does not spill over into arrogant braggadocio though it lingers rather close sometimes. You get this feeling like he knows he was sent to earth by gods to bless us with the message of ‘More Juice’ and bars rare to this turf.

He throws shade to his rivals in the rap industry, like writing their incompetence with swift steady hand, i.e: He writes his curses in cursive.

You couldn’t make a crowd jump if your name was Kriss Kross

Unfortunately for now, the video has been pulled off of Youtube due to a copyright claim by the producer, Brakxx Beats Africa. But you can listen to it here.

Or here.

 

Rating: 3.5 / 5

( image: kenyans.co.ke )

An Introduction to Frank Ocean

WARNING: A sea of bad ocean puns. If you like analysis and bad puns- come, swim good with me. Let’s begin.

There’s a plethora of in-depth analysis and think pieces on Mr. Ocean on the internet. He has this je ne sais quoi about him that just has to be documented. It has to be discussed. It has to be written. Once you have fallen down the rabbit hole and into the Ocean, there’s no swimming back.

My first step into the waters of Frank began with his 2012 performance of ‘Thinkin bout you’ at the VMA’s. Prior to that, I had never heard of him. Who was this stranger in a striped bandana and why was he making me feel some typa way?

He had just come out of the closet and that definitely didn’t sit very well in the testosterone fueled world of hip-hop. T-pain exposed the homophobia of the industry when he blurted that rappers refused to work with Frank Ocean because of his sexuality. I’m sure they regret that decision now. Regardless, Frank stood his ground by performing for millions a love song directed to his first time, and the unrequited love referenced in his coming out letter.

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Again, I didn’t know who he was, but I was intrigued. I had to know and since then, I’ve been swimming in Frank Ocean ever since and never once have I needed to come up for air.

It’s hard to throw him into a genre box. Instinctively, one would say r&b but that’s a limiting injustice. Just because a black man sings does that automatically make him an r&b artist? His style ranges from everything to anthems that border on gospel such as ‘Godspeed’ to Intelligent Dance Music in ‘Device Control’ and Post Britpop in his cover of Coldplay’s ‘Strawberry Swing’.

He’s an expert storyteller, who can paint an entire film in a listener’s mind through lyrics and sonic texture.

And now, we may begin.

i.) Somewhere around 2008 – The Lonny Breaux Collection

Born Christopher Edwin Breaux on October 28th 1987, he grew up in New Orleans. In 2005 he relocated to New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina caused irreversible damage to his studio. He got his foot in the music industry by songwriting for artists such as Brandy and Justin Bieber and eventually signing with Def Jam/Island Records in 2009, while under the moniker Lonny Breaux.

They say you have to make a lot of bad art before you make good art. Lonny was Frank’s chrysalis stage.

These songs were leaked and compiled by a comrade devotee from the interweb, a majority of them being reference tracks he wrote for other artists. ‘Acura Integrl’ is pretty much the only song he proudly owned from this compilation, so we can safely say that it is the first song he ever publicly dropped.

The collection comprises of mostly cheesy bubblegum r&b, a-la 2008 Justin Bieber. The Midi-mafia production is synth heavy and, honestly, quite cringeworthy. Tracks like ‘Hardest Thing’ sound like he was writing through writer’s block and ‘I Need Love’ is exceedingly whiny. However, Lonny’s corny r&b made a good rhythmic foundation for Frank. Through the factory presets, you can catch a glimpse of Frank slowly brewing inside Lonny. One can sense his frustrations with L.A, a city that doesn’t give love as easily as it is given.

The least unpalatable track is ‘Dying For Your Love’ featuring James Fauntleroy, and would have easily been a hit of that time, had it received any radio play. In 2011, Chris Brown tweeted what could have been interpreted as a backhanded compliment comparing Frank Ocean to singer/songwriters like James Fauntleroy and Kevin Cossum, which led to a tweef (twitter beef) between the two. Tension built up for a couple of years and this eventually resulted in a physical brawl outside Westlake Studio in Los Angeles.

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It’s understandable. While James Fauntleroy and Kevin Cossum are highly regarded prolific songwriters, they’re not G.O.A.Ts. If you’re gonna compare Frank Ocean to anyone, at least compare him to Drake, not Quentin Miller.

Conflicts aside, it just goes to show you perfection isn’t born, it’s bred.

ii.) 2011 – Nostalgia, ULTRA

Nostalgia, ULTRA is what it look likes when a man makes music for himself for the last time, before the world cast its eyes on him and never looks away.

Frank’s frustrations with his label constantly passing him over led to his decision to self release Nostalgia, ULTRA as a free mixtape. He changed his name from Lonny Breaux to Frank Ocean and started affiliating himself with OFWGKTA (A.K.A Odd future), garnering a bit of traction from their fan base.

“You know that guy Frank who sings in Odd Future?”

“Yeah?”

“He just dropped a mixtape.”

“Nice, let’s check it out.”

He blew up after this.

The production is significantly better, sample driven with 90’s nostalgia cassette stops and faint video game soundtracks in ‘Street Fighter’ and ‘Soul Calibur’. He shed his commercial skin with Lonny Breaux and opted for a more individualistic, personal approach.

In ‘Novacane’, he compares the numbness after heartbreak to the pain-suppressing nature of drugs and the elusiveness of happiness. The song title is a wordplay on the anaesthetic Novocain and the cataclysmic figurative supernova that happens when a star dies. He references Stanley Kubrick’s 1999 film, ‘Eyes Wide Shut’, which Frank also samples from in the track ‘Lovecrimes’, the love crime in question being impregnating his girl in the throes of passion.

The James Fauntleroy outro in ‘American Wedding’ is a string section reminding you that you can do anything that you want. Just believe.

These niggas can’t do nothing that I can’t do
That she can’t do, that he can’t do, that you can’t do, that we can’t do

‘Nature Feels’ is a jiggy explosion that blends ‘nature’ and ‘sex’ into one cohesive theme. He compares himself to a biblical Adam exploring a world unseen.

iii.) 2012 – Channel Orange

Channel Orange is the relaxed, lethargic introspection of a man who has all the time in the world, even though he recorded it in under three weeks. It’s orange because in true synesthete fashion, he recalls the summer he fell in love, when everything was orange.

With pressure from listeners anticipating his second release, Frank gets rid of the elephant in the room by starting the album off with ‘Thinking bout you’. An ode to his first love.

He shows us how the opulence of the 1% in the staccato ‘Super Rich Kids’ and the jazzy cabaret ‘Sweet Life’. Congratulations Frank, you made it.

So why see the world, when you got the beach

‘Super Rich Kids’ is a jagged decadent tale. The song commences with the protagonist starting his day enjoying the view from his roof; carefree and revelling in his inherited wealth. It ends with him at the end of the day, asking, “do they sew wings on tailored suits?” He plunges off the same roof upon the drunken realisation that while money can get you a great many things, it could never buy you happiness. The hook portrays the two major themes: the pleasure of the beginning and the melancholy of the end. Furthermore, Earl Sweatshirt’s verse on the track is a grammy worthy spit to all the latchkey kids who got too big of an allowance and not enough love.

A million one, a million cash
Close my eyes and feel the crash

‘Crack Rock’ and ‘Pilot Jones’ tackles the destructiveness of drug abuse and the havoc it can wreak on loved ones who really do care, but just can’t deal with the addict in their life anymore. It’s drawn from the times Frank spent with his grandfather, a reformed addict himself, who would take Frank to Narcotics Anonymous and AA meetings, where Frank would hear sordid tales of battles against the bottomless pit the is drug addiction.

‘Pyramids’ is 10 minute track about Cleopatra reincarnated. In the second half of the song, after having fallen from grace, Cleopatra finds herself working as a stripper at the Pyramid, in slow bounce R&B format.

Finally, Frank employs Andre 3000 and his bluesy guitar in ‘Pink Matter’ to question existence as we know it, and the utility of a woman.

iv.) 2013 – Unreleased, MISC

A.k.a songs from a tumblr. An unofficial compilation of the singles that Frank put out on his tumblr page.

‘Pyrite’ is the quintessential breakup song, comparing fake love to fake gold, you can always tell the difference. He soberly paints a picture with tropical guitars and beach hues in ‘Voodoo’, a song about the unity and trust required to make a relationship work.

I know pyrite from 24 karat, yeah
Cubic’s from genuine diamond, yeah
A call from the woman who loves you and hello from a friend
I know when it’s real, I know how to tell

 

v.) 2016 – Endless

It had been two and some years of practically radio silence from Frank, when he showed up on his Tumblr teasing an album called Boys Don’t Cry, saying“I got two versions. I got twooo versions…”

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July 2015 was the month. We waited in an excited frenzy. July came, then August, then September, then Christmas, then Easter. Silence. Everyone was losing their shit:  You said July, Frank. You promised. Where are you? Why did you lie to us?

We had lost hope and moved on with the drudgery of our lives until one day in August 2016, a live stream appeared of an empty warehouse. It was him. He was here.

Unfortunately, Endless is in the shadow of Blonde. Either that or it is viewed as a shameless IDM apple plug, a means to the termination of his contract with Def Jam. It flows like one long 45 minute play with one track seamlessly blending into the next. It is highly underrated. It is so much more.

With top notch production and immaculate features from the likes of crooners like Jazmine Sullivan and Sampha. The layered vocals, singing over each other  but not cluttering are a representation of the cacophony that takes place within a  normal person’s mind: different voices saying different things at the same time but somehow in harmony still. It’s airy and reminiscent of James Blake.

He prays that his children get to see him and his love in all their bloom in the gut-wrenching ‘Wither’.

‘Slide on me’ is a syncopated dancehall track with acoustic and deep bass come together as one. There’s a line in it where he says ‘Aki’ and ‘Wallahi’ , whereas ‘Wallahi’ means ‘I swear’ in Arabic and ‘Aki’ means ‘I swear’ in swahili sheng, and I swear my Kenyan self exploded like a firework.

‘In Here Somewhere’ is Jazmine Sullivan driving my feelings down a desert road at dusk.

The outro in ‘Rushes’ is a flooding warmth. The atmosphere instrumentals like ‘Honeybaby: Ambience 002’ dim the lights for you and set the mood.

His vocal capability shines in ‘Rushes To’ and then he  switches up and casually spits macho bars in ‘Higgs/Outro’ as if he did not just gut my heart into a million pieces in the previous song.

 

vi.) 2016 – Blonde

The album formerly known as Boys Don’t Cry. Frank never shies away from tackling weighty topics. From abortion and religion in previous albums, to the ceaseless death of unarmed black men in America in ‘Nikes’. Both Endless and Blonde are highly autobiographical: they chronicle his childhood in New Orleans, his various moves from Texas to New Orleans.

The vaporwave ambition is strong on this one. He built a staircase in Endless, he built a sky in Blonde. Tossing out the synths for guitars.

He switches up the beat in ‘Nights’ from shady undercuts directed towards a resurfaced ex, to gratitude expressed towards an ex whom he owes a lot to. Former lovers you remember fondly and those you remember with the aftertaste of stale cabbage in your mouth. With cruising kicks and snares just to toy with you.

Did you call me from a séance?
You are from my past life
Hope you’re doing well bruh

He brings back 3 stacks on ‘Solo reprise’ who starts the song off with a tribal cry and continues to assert himself at the top of the hip-hop food chain.

‘Seigfried’ feels hazy, like slowly waking up from a dream, drifting in and out of consciousness. It is a romantic and melancholic contemplation of surrender to societal norms and expectations, asking if the fight is really worth it or if he should just throw in the towel. ‘White Ferrari’ is celestial and gentle, about dumb youth and how quickly time flies.

Blonde is unlike anything he’s ever done. It feels limitless, no walls nor boundaries erected. Like an immersive stream of polished consciousness.

Well worth the wait. I forgot why I was even mad in the first place.

 

Bonus: Noteworthy features 

‘She’ & ‘Analog 2’ where him and his buddy Tyler take turns being psychopaths.

He drops the weed in favor of a clear head in ‘Sunday’. The only person Frank has more musical chemistry with than Tyler is Earl. The play off of each other’s energies like a friendly round of ping pong.

The stripped down ‘Frank’s Track’ from Life of Pablo, where he talks of a dystopian future where humans find out that life is indeed precious but by then, it’s too late.

In conclusion, what makes Frank so amazing is how much he refuses the focus to be on him. Don’t look at him, listen to the story- in its words and in its sounds. Pure and simple.

If the story needs him to visually articulate something, he’ll do it for the sake of the story. But the story always comes first. You get this feeling that even he didn’t know where it would go until he put the dot on the last sentence and a picture revealed itself.

You see, the goal of the artist is to get you to see what they see. Of course, this is easier said than done but Frank makes no compromises. He makes sure that what he shows us, what we see, is 100% the way he saw it in his head, the significant bits and the garble jarble. All of it, in its entirety.

Like how he captures both sides of love as a theme. The ‘loving’ and the ‘loveless’. The best of times and the worst of times, but still, it is love and that is what he is showing you.

Or how he can relate love to anything. Drugs and love in ‘Novacane’. Tattoos and love in ‘Blasted’. Religion and love. Cars and love (saying he’s really into cars is an understatement. You know this) I’m sure he could pick the gnarliest topic like a colonoscopy and still find a way to relate it to how love is a pain in the ass.

Every detail is deliberately and meticulously executed. Even in the parts with no lyrics, no instruments, he sets the ambiance just by waking up and scratching his balls like at the end of ‘Strawberry swing.’ Walking home in the rain and setting down his keys. Making love in the back seat of a car. All these sounds emphasize the significance of ambiance to a story, to a picture, to a film, to a song.

Moral of the story: Mom is right. Be yourself. Be secure with yourself. Rely and trust upon your own decisions. Own your own beliefs. Be yourself and know that that’s good enough.

 

Images:  http://frankocean.tumblr.com; The Daily Dot

Lyrics: Genius

              

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”.

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Rated: 3.2/ 5 

Image: The Early Registration

 

Yes Lawd!: Anderson .Paak / Knxwledge

Anderson .Paak is winning. In 2016 he got his big break. He released his debut album Malibu. He signed with Dre. Everyone wants a piece of him now, he knows this. Malibu and Venice were two very mature projects, bending and winding into the complex themes of Anderson .Paak’s life. Therefore, he deserves a little fun. As a result, we have Yes Lawd! 

With his candy paint smooth voice and Knxwledge on production, Nxworries may arguably be the smoothest duo of 2017. Signed to the iconic Stones Throw Records that has housed the likes of Madlib, MF Doom and J Dilla. Iconic producers in their own right. 

‘Suede’ being the first single to push the project, Anderson .Paak addresses the various girls who want to “ride in his car” (catch the innuendo). He differentiates the “tricks” from the bitches, and ensures that everyone is on the same page.

Gotta whole lot of women, all of them with it
Yes Lord!

The question here is: Is Anderson .Paak sexist or are his pimp genes too strong?

And as long as you don’t call after 6
Then there won’t be any problem

Geez, that’s cold man.

A recurring theme in .Paak’s lyrics is his difficulty of choice between commitment and dishing free loving. He asks the girls to come through in ‘Link up’ where he proceeds to pied piper them back to his place. However, In ‘Sidepiece’ he croons his devotion to one woman, for whom he would gladly give up everyone else for.

The feels take over rationality in ‘Starlite’: he’s in the process of breaking up with her when their song plays and he asks her to fuck everything he’s just said, and stay the night.

Hey, got damn, bitch, they playing our song
I wanna stay with you all night long
Forget every single word I’ve said, I was dead wrong

Before I go any further, you have to remember that this is an Anderson .Paak and Knxwledge album. While the mainstream public is generally familiar with Anderson .Paak by now, they aren’t as privileged when it comes to Knxwledge.

One thing you should know is that his first release was in 2010 and since then he has released about 80 albums and EPs, establishing himself as a legend, in a little under 7 years. If that isn’t hard work I don’t know what is.

Knxwledge is the background calm to .Paak’s hyper charisma. If their music was a club: Anderson would be wilding out at the centre of the dancefloor and Knxwledge would be standing at the back, bobbing his head, vibing to the music and smoking a blunt.

His production really shines in ‘Kutless’ and ‘Can’t Stop’, particularly from the 00:40 mark. Both sound like raw honey tastes, with Knxwledge’s snazzy loops: perfectly sliced and placed samples, as his signature.  80’s nostalgia is prevalent with that jamming Yamaha DX7 synth sound in ‘Scared Money’. Maybe .Paak singing over the first track from Knxwledge’s 2013 album Kauliflowr on ‘Wngs’ can prove to you just how great of a stand-alone artist Knxwledge is, and when fused together with another great artist, magic ensues.

Bless Lawd for this collaboration.

Rated: 3.9 / 5

Image: Consequence of Sound

Lyrics: Genius

The Cozy Tapes vol. 1: Friends

First things first: R.I.P Yams. You’re the only father that we ever knew.

The second annual Yams Day concert was held last Wednesday at Madison Square Garden in New York and featured artists such as Schoolboy Q, Tyler the creator, and of course, the A$AP mob, to commemorate the life of their founder, A$AP Yams- who formed the group in 2006 and passed in 2015.

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Let’s get something straight, if you’re lit with the squad, then this album goes hard. Not so much if you want something skin deep. Regardless, it reeks of sentimentality. Yams was the glue that tied the block together, now they use him to remember how the pieces were stacked. This is an album for Yams, by Yams. It’s been in the works since 2013 as a follow up to the mob’s 2012 project debut Lords Never Worry.

Arguably, rap’s number one fashion savant, A$AP Rocky chooses a mash up of comfort and design thus remaining the fashion forward face of the mob, while being cozy at the same time. Balenciaga meets global warming.

I like ‘Put That On My Set’ because you can see just how strong the camaraderie between the brothers is, and neither one will hesitate to pull up on anyone (that altercation  with spaceghostpurrp a while ago can be held as proof of this statement). Mean thugging while rocking Gucci durags and staying luxuriously classy. A reincarnation of old glamour in 2016 Harlem.

‘Yamborghini high’ plays like a cypher. All of them pouring a lyrical libation to Yams before going in. You can tell that Yams really did have all their best interests at heart and with him gone…well, they’re like children who’ve lost a parent. Yams was their guiding light and now they have to figure things out on their own, but they’re making music, getting that money, and getting lit like Yams would have wanted.

Tyler the Creator passes by in ‘Telephone Calls’. A$AP Rocky makes a bashful jab at Tyler, poking the dragon, knowing what’s gonna happen when he wakes up.

Tell Tyler, better step his flow up

Tyler’s goofy oddball ways sometimes makes me forget how hard he can spit bars. In my opinion, too much Flacko, not enough Ferg. With Rocky in almost every track and Ferg in two.

Still, this is the dream that Yams dreamt, all his boys reaching their potential. Flying high, living life cozy.

Rated: 3.5 / 5

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I Never Thought That it Would Hit This Hard

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I have friends that got disillusioned by Post Malone once he said his album was going to be more country than hip-hop. I have more friends that knew for sure White Iverson was a fluke, Post Malone is just a kid who would disappoint them with some half-assed mumbles and struggle bars, like everyone else who touched their cheeks and said, ‘saucin’.

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Admit it; you thought Post Malone was a one hit wonder. I did, he probably did too. You see, the rationale behind the one hit wonder is not that the one hit wonder never releases any more music; it’s that nothing else the one hit wonder does will ever top, let alone match, the one hit. However, Post Malone is not a one hit wonder.

Stoney is perfect aux cord music for driving through back roads at 2 am with the squad. The country influence is strong with this one, it’s subtle and present: a small injection of heart and soul and acoustic into smooth bumpings and dank bass.

He pays his respects to A$AP Yams and Bankroll Fresh, they died too young. He talks about life after ‘White Iverson’, the things that changed, the things that didn’t. How badly he’s waited for this moment to flex on the haters. Women that rode him good and did him wrong. Losing yourself in the sauce and it tasted so good.

[Hook]
I wanna go up there
And I don’t ever wanna come down

The sizzling hats orbit around my head, if I close my eyes, I can see the dim studio lights, the flash of a grin and a rose gold grill, I can feel the peaks and the come downs, the liquor, I can smell perfume on the base of a neck.

‘Leave’ is an anthem to anyone who has ever been in an unhealthy relationship, a situationship: How do you leave each other when you can’t leave each other alone? The symphony strings emphasizing the brutal longing of it all, that’s how you know it’s raw.  ‘Go Flex’ is all your dreams unfolding before your very eyes, and you’d remember those nights when you’d stare out into the sky thinking, “Man, I just wanna go flex.”

Post Malone knows exactly what he’s doing. He’s proving some people wrong, he’s proving himself right. August 26th was him teasing. This is the debut, it doesn’t feel like it because he settled in a long time ago, Post Malone is here to stay.tumblr_nsfs6q1dfw1uv2m1to10_540

He’ll be coming down from the high of his life a few more times.

 

 

Rated: 3.8 / 5

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

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