Last week’s battle of the bands brought four groups head-to-head for a chance to perform at Rainy Dawg Radio’s 14th annual Birthday Fest. Don, a future bounce group, came out on top and opened for Kero Kero Bonito on Tuesday.
The band includes lead vocalist Stefán Kubeja, bass player and vocalist Phinehas Nyang’Oro, drummer Bobby Jimmi, synth player Daniel Salka, and keyboardist Ori Levari. Stefán, Daniel, and Ori are all UW students.
I interviewed Don before the show on Tuesday about how they got started, how their jazz backgrounds influence their current work, and what’s next. Some responses have been shortened for clarity.
How did you get started?
Stefán: Originally it was just Daniel and me. We used to just play music together. Then we went through a big series of lineup changes until we met Phinehas. Phinehas stuck with us, and Phinehas introduced us to Bobby Jimmi, because they knew each other from playing in jams. We played a gig, and we felt like it worked, so we just stuck together. Ori was actually a replacement because Daniel couldn’t make Battle of the Bands, so we called him. And now he’s officially in the band. This is his second gig with us.
How did it feel to play your first show with Don at the Birthday Battle?
Ori: It was great. It was fun. I’ve always wanted to play this kind of music, and it’s cool to have that opportunity. I play a lot of jazz, which is fun in its own right, but hip-hop is pretty cool.
Stefán: Everyone has a jazz background except for me and Bobby Jimmi. So we take a lot of influence from the Seattle jazz scene.
What was it like switching from jazz to this style of music?
Ori: It’s cool to have jazz influences in my playing, at least for this group. I think it lends itself really well to having jazz influences. But I see them as being pretty similar, to be honest. It didn’t seem like a very big jump.
Phinehas: I’m from North Carolina, so I was already doing stuff like this in high school. I moved to France, so they weren’t doing this type of hip hop. I’m just happy to be in Seattle, where they’re giving me a little bit of what I used to do back home.
How did it feel to win Birthday Battle?
Stefán: It was cool. Everyone was sitting there, and we were all watching the numbers go up. Phinehas was like, ‘Yes!’ when we got a vote, and then when we got passed, he was like, ‘No!’ They ended up having people vote on the way out, so by the time we got informed that we won, it was just us and the people running the event. So we got to have our own little celebration. We’re psyched.
What are you looking forward to about tonight?
Stefán: I think there are a lot of people who saw us perform at the battle and are excited to see us tonight. I’m excited to have some fun and perform in front of the people who really like us.
Phinehas: I just want to be thankful for being able to play this music in front of an audience. I hope that I can give them something of satisfaction.
Bobby Jimmi: I get my energy from the crowd. If they’re dead, I’m going to be dead.
Ori: I’m just excited to play for a full house. It should have good energy.
How do you balance being a UW student and being in a band?
Stefán: People say it’s hard, but it’s not really that hard. I can speak for all of us when I say that, beyond school, what we do is music. We just make time for it. Maybe we don’t go to parties or we don’t chill with frats. Instead, we’re doing music. I don’t find it to be that difficult. I find it to be kind of natural. It’s like work and play.
What’s next for you guys?
Stefán: We’re in the studio right now, recording our debut, which is coming out June 1. We hope to do a West Coast tour come August. Beyond that, who knows. After this show, just having more fun, doing everything we can. Being grateful, being thankful. Sharing energy, receiving energy.
Unless you’ve been living under a rock since 2010, you may have a decent idea of who Kendrick Lamar is. Since his official label debut good kid, m.A.A.d city, Lamar has earned himself worldwide appeal as both a popular and conscious rapper. Now, two years since his genre-shattering To Pimp A Butterfly, Lamar has returned to the spotlight with DAMN., a record dense with personal reflection and exemplary production that once again establishes him as one of the all-time greats.
“So I was taking a walk the other day…” Kendrick starts DAMN. off with a short narrative in which he describes his own death. It seems that the remainder of the album revolves around Lamar contemplating his own life, considering if his life would have been worthy of living had he actually died. The album even reverses on “DUCKWORTH.”, the final track, and returns to where DAMN. started off. The song titles cut no corners; each previews the song’s subject matter. “HUMBLE.”, for example, delicately balances on Lamar’s own bravado and the constant reminder to “sit down” and “be humble.” Other tracks cut deeper. “FEAR.” outlines Lamar’s fears, including death’s unpredictability and of losing the fame and wealth he’s earned. The mood throughout the album sways between vulnerable and confident; it’s a blend of what made both To Pimp A Butterfly and good kid, m.A.A.d city unique. Despite relying on similar tones, Lamar delves into new topics and makes DAMN. feel just as unique as his previous two works.
Unlike To Pimp A Butterfly, DAMN. features a departure from jazz rap, rather fusing pop, electronic, alternative, and trap music into a refreshing sound that caters to Lamar’s versatility. The production credits are indicative of such; to name a few, James Blake, 9th Wonder, James Blake, Steve Lacy, and BADBADNOTGOOD all lend their production talents on DAMN. Each song is an otherworldly experience on its own, yet listened to side by side reveal the narrative of Lamar’s latest work. “XXX.” features perhaps the wildest beat switch (one of many) on the album, exploding from a dark, bass-driven beat into a flurry of sirens. Other highlights include “LUST.”, a song empowered by a delayed entry of the drums, and “PRIDE.”, whose guitar chords slow the pace to a melodic crawl.
To Pimp A Butterfly took some time to grow on me when I first heard it. I was initially disappointed because I was hoping to hear more tracks reminiscent of good kid, m.A.A.d city, but instead what I got was vastly opposite. Once I had come around to it, however, I learned that artists aren’t supposed to rely on formulaic music to become successful. Real artists grow and change; they learn and evolve to create new, exceptional music that keeps them one step ahead of the competition. Lamar’s competition, Drake, has fallen victim to this and chosen to stick to what works rather than take risks and mature as an artist. Lamar, on the other hand, continues to grow and surprise his fans, with each new album being more unprecedented than the last. DAMN. is a shining example of such. An album inspired by Lamar’s own life and attitude, it stands alone as a masterpiece and singular experience. Lamar continues to solidify his placement upon the Mount Rushmore of rap, and he will most certainly surprise us all with whatever he has planned next. Listen to DAMN.here.
So, a few weeks ago a few friends and I went to go see Hayley Kiyoko live. The performance was at the wonderful Crocodile in downtown Seattle (although the roof was leaking??) and we were excited to see the show. We got there praying there wouldn’t be an opener, we just wanted to get straight to the Hayley Kiyoko part of the night. But there was an opener, of course, the upcoming band Flor. To our surprise, Florblew us away with their music and stage presence – they rocked our socks right off. Surely, we thought, Hayley would top them by leaps and bounds – this wasn’t the case. Hayley Kiyoko was fine, she got the job done but all in all she was a beautiful mess. The show felt unprofessional, and I’d describe her stage presence and remarks thereof as a long Tumblr text post I did not want to read. So, this blog is gonna be about Flor, because I fell in love with them. Sorry Hayley.
Although Flor has just only started touring and doing large live performances, they still managed to impress us. The lead singer, Zach, was adorable and so awesome and kind to the audience. He had sort of a cute and quirky way of getting us pumped up. After their first few songs he thanked the audience, “Thank you guys for applauding, you really didn’t have to. It could’ve been totally silent, and I just wanna thank you guys for the applause”. I hope that in the future, if Flor gets big, that he doesn’t lose this thankfulness to a jaded look at fame and performance. All four members of the band had a stage presence that played off one another, they worked as a cohesive organism that made awesome rock sounds. Not only was their stage presence just fantastic, so was their music. The indie and high voice of the singer was the perfect complement to the airy indie rock music flow they had going on. They did a really cool rock style performance of Adele’s “Send my Love (to your new lover)” that you can watch here:
All in all the concert rocked, and it was really worth it to see Flor – oh, and Hayley Kiyoko was there too. I ended up buying this sick hat from the Flor merch, I liked them so much.
My fascination with Diet Cig started when I saw them open for The Front Bottoms and Brick + Mortar last year. At that time, they had one 5-song EP and two singles. Almost exactly one year later, they dropped their first full length album, I Swear I’m Good at This. Frontwoman Alex Luciano keeps it real with her audience and her unbridled honesty makes her lyrics so much more relatable. The opener of the album, “Sixteen”, details cringey moments of dating someone with the same name. Luciano addresses many relationship struggles and problems commonly encountered as one enters adulthood, or at least tries to.
Among the sweet melodies and talk of relationships are discussions of heavier topics such as gender roles and consent. On “Maid Of The Mist”, Luciano spits out “I am bigger than the outside shell of my body and if you touch it without asking then you’ll be sorry”. Luciano may refer to relationships and seemingly mundane topics, but she remains feminist pop-punk and empowered. “Tummy Ache” and “Link in Bio” is where some of this feminist frustration boils over.
Overall, Diet Cig nails combining a young innocence with ferocity and empowerment. They blend elements and themes together in a bubbly, dancy pop. I Swear I’m Good at This is an amazing debut album and I’m excited to see where they go from here.
Diet Cig will be stopping by Seattle on April 28th at Barboza. If you’re able to attend, I highly recommend. The energy present in their music is multiplied by 10 at their live shows. Luciano jumps, kicks, and is an amazing ball of energy. She’ll make you dance even if you’re unfamiliar with their music. You can grab tickets for that show here.
In case you couldn’t tell by the album’s title, Joey Bada$$ is not merely dropping a typical rap album. Inspired by the late Capital Steez’s AmeriKKKan Korruption, Bada$$ has decided to follow in the footsteps of Pro Era’s former great. Exactly five years to the date after Steez’s album, Bada$$ has delivered a project strongly rooted in the “korruption” in present day America.
ALL-AMERIKKKAN BADA$$ features a departure from Bada$$’ typical boom-bop New York sound, favoring a tracklist highlighted by bright production and jazz rap. Long-time producer Statik Selektah produced only two of the twelve tracks on his new album, compared to four on B4.DA.$$. This time around, Bada$$’ producers implement horn sections and electric guitar on a number of tracks, elevating them from decent to fantastic, as well as displaying Bada$$’ adaptability by stepping in a new direction of melody. The middle of the tracklist includes what might be the grooviest sequence of production on an album this year, with “TEMPTATION”, “LAND OF THE FREE”, “DEVASTATED”, and “Y U DON’T LOVE ME (MISS AMERIKKKA)” following one after another. The transition from these four tracks to the next two, “ROCKABYE BABY” and “RING THE ALARM”, is completely jarring, but a welcome shift back towards Bada$$ embracing his ruthless lyricism.
The subject matter is surprisingly heavy compared to the albums upbeat production. Much like Common’s Black America Again, ALL-AMERIKKKAN BADA$$ addresses issues plaguing American’s African Americans, such as police brutality, racism, and inequality. “Y U DON’T LOVE ME (MISS AMERIKKKA)” is reminiscent of an homage to 50 Cent’s “21 Questions”, except Bada$$ questions America’s lack of acceptance towards African Americans. He spits, “Tell me why you don’t love me/Why you always misjudge me?/Why you always put so many things above me?/Why you lead me to believe that I’m ugly?”. Bada$$ doesn’t hold back, and it pays off. The last two minutes of the album are when Bada$$ is at his strongest; he effortlessly dismantles the U.S. government, accusing them of trying to start a civil war between its black and white citizens. He encourages his listeners to unite and fight back, rather than fight each other like he believes the government wants.
Bada$$ hits the mark on every aspect of this album. The production is solid, the guest appearances burst each track into flames, and the themes present relevant issues that need to brought forth time and time again. The focus of ALL-AMERIKKKAN BADA$$ is much tighter than B4.DA.$$, and its production more versatile. Bada$$ has shown great signs on improvement on his sophomore effort and has proved himself deserving of the national spotlight alongside industry titans like Kendrick Lamar and Drake. Listen to ALL-AMERIKKKAN BADA$$ here.