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.
Pure Comedy, Josh Tillman’s third album as Father John Misty, is a calculated mix of both.
The album marks a dark shift in Tillman’s subject matter. While the lyrics on Fear Fun (2012) and I Love You, Honeybear (2015) discuss love, drugs, masculinity, and sexuality, “Pure Comedy” satirizes religion, technology, climate change, politics, and pop culture.
This album lacks the varied pacing of his previous two; almost all the songs on Pure Comedy are slow and moody. One exception is the third track, “Total Entertainment Forever,” an upbeat song you can tap your feet to. It’s a nice breather, and there could have been more songs in this style on the album.
But what Pure Comedy’s sound lacks in speed, it makes up in depth. The instrumentals are far more experimental than either of Tillman’s past solo albums. A minute and a half into “Things It Would Have Been Helpful to Know Before the Revolution,” the fairly simple melody transforms into an angry swell of horned instruments, echoing vocals, and strings. It’s one of my favorite tracks on the album.
Despite these changes, Tillman’s songs still fit his Father John Misty persona like a glove. As usual, it’s sometimes hard to tell whether he’s being sarcastic or genuine. But Tillman knows exactly what he’s doing – he makes that clear in “Leaving LA.” You’ll spend the entire time wondering, “Is he trying too hard, or is he making fun of people who try too hard?” It’s satire at its finest and most frustrating.
Though slow-moving, the album’s beautiful instrumentals and clever lyrics are worth a listen. Whether you roll your eyes or get teary, Pure Comedy will make you think.
The hip-hop community seems to be releasing an endless array of songs commenting on today’s social and political issues. It has struck me that I have not seen as much politically charged music in the indie/folk scene. What has happened to this genre that used to be at the forefront of hippie culture or maybe a better question is who is making the music?
ANew Yorker article describes the history and transition of the indie community becoming so white. Look back to the early days of folk and you’ll see how they took the call and response element straight from songs sung on the plantations by slaves. Then listen to the music of the 60’s and 70’s and you’ll hear the blues influence. There was a lot of borrowing between black and white musicians but it stopped according to the article sometime when hip-hop began to take over the charts. Indie rock became white and hip-hop black.
The reason for bringing this up is that indie/folk is my favorite genre but if you told me list to my top 10 even 20 artists from that genre they would all be white. It’s an important aspect of music to acknowledge even if you don’t want to.
First Aid Kit is comprised of two sisters Klara and Johanna Soderberg who hail from Sweden. Why I picked to highlight them was because even though they fall in line with the majority of white artists in the indie/folk scene their latest song has a powerful political and social message. The duo’s song is focused on an issue that affects them and half the world’s population, women.
It’s very easy for anyone to take the safe route and say nothing when an issue arises especially if it’s political. But it is important that those with a voice especially musicians speak out and I think First Aid Kit provides a perfect example of how to do that.
“You Are the Problem Here” by First Aid Kit is a rock song done by folk group that is striking. If you’ve heard the Swedish duo before and listen to this new song, you’ll notice it is quite different. Departing from their normal harmonies that are delicate and beautiful, there is a raw anger that comes through the song. From the very beginning you know that you’re getting something different. Instead of the normal acoustic an electric guitar gives energy to the song.
The lyrics are simple, even repetitive but that’s the point. Sexual harassment and rape shouldn’t be so complicated. Consent is an easy concept, that’s why there is so much anger. The last line of the song captures the intense rage the sisters have for those who sexually harass women; “And I hope you fucking suffer”. There is no hidden message, no metaphor it’s raw which is what makes this song powerful.
While it is not my favorite track from the talented Swedes it’s one that is important. It’s a track from the indie community that says something. There are many more out there and hopefully many more to come.
Back in 2001, Damon Albarn was a pretty big deal. The songwriter and singer of Britpop sensation Blur, Albarn was the Gallagher brothers’ more pretentious cousin, even if his most famous bit of writing, “Song 2”, was originally intended to be a joke, poking fun at American grunge music. He was revered in Britain, but little more than an afterthought in the States. Britpop hadn’t fully crossed over to America, and so it seemed Albarn would be forever left in British consciousness.
Then, on March 5, “Clint Eastwood” was released. With its jerky beat and faux-evil feel, “Clint Eastwood” was the world’s flashy introduction to Gorillaz, the Albarn side project which has long since eclipsed his own fame. And with Gorillaz, Albarn entered a new tier of respect in the music world: he went from solid pop singer to artistic master. As the popularity of Gorillaz continued to soar, Albarn seemed to get increasingly experimental, daring: he heavily used electronics, featured old-school rappers like De La Soul, and took the cartoon band to new heights that Blur, for all its British popularity, could never achieve.
Just a few days ago, on March 23rd, this trend continued even further. In anticipation of the first Gorillaz album since 2011’s The Fall, titled Humanz, Gorillaz released four new tracks, all original and all very odd. “Saturnz Barz”, the flashiest of the new singles, was accompanied by a 360 degree music video and features Jamaican singer Popcaan heavily, recalls “Clint Eastwood” with its slow, drum-heavy groove. “Ascension”, featuring Vince Staples, is an incredibly fun and short romp, with Vince absolutely killing it throughout the track. “We Got the Power”, featuring Savages singer Jehnny Beth and, amusingly, Noel Gallagher, is a little cheesy in its universal “All you need is love” message, but Beth’s quavering vocals rescue the track from itself. Finally, “Andromeda” features American rapper D.R.A.M. and goes for a more relaxed, bass-heavy feel that contrasts nicely from the other tracks. They may not all be Albarn & Co.’s finest work, but they are all certainly worth a listen.
March 3, 2017 was when Seattle welcomed the up and coming
pop artist Quinn XCII into its classic rainy Friday night music scene for his
third show on his first ever headlining tour- The One Day at a Time Tour. We
sat down in the equipment room before his sold-out show at Barboza in the
Capitol Hill area of Seattle and chatted music, tour life, and his take on
entering the music scene. Out of his 18 stops on the tour, this was his third
show and at the time, all of the three were sold out, not a bad start.
I began the conversation by asking some local Seattle
questions as this was the Michigan native’s first time in the Emerald City and did
not get a chance to see the classic tourist sights, but he seemed to be a good
fit in the city as he said craft beer and coffee were two of his favorite
things in the world. He said he had plans on enjoying the local beer scene post
show. We also shared a few words on coffee, given that Seattle is famous for
its caffeinated drink and he said he has gained a new respect for it as it is
beneficial in order to make the most of his studio time and the “idea-sparking”
powers coffee has on him when writing.
With now over 1,000,000 monthly listeners on Spotify and
64,000 followers on SoundCloud, Quinn gives credit to his music inspiration
coming from his parent’s record collection and influences from artists such as
Michael Jackson and the Motown scene surrounding Detroit, his hometown. In high
school Quinn began experimenting with his vocals and music in general as he
began to write raps and rap over beats him and his current day producer that
goes by the name Ayokay, would find on YouTube. From this sparked a musical
relationship between the two as they began “cultivating” their own sound
through these experiments. Quinn says the biggest challenge in creating music
is being able to stray away from the crowd and craft his own sound.
Quinn spent his college days at Michigan State University
and his sophomore year was when he released his first official project via
SoundCloud, which he gives credit to being a major reason he was able to gain a
following during those first days of creating music. It was soon after that he
began playing live shows and says that after a show on a tour with electronic
artist Louis The Child in Lansing, Michigan, that was the moment he realized he
could do music as a career as he felt a, “powerful reciprocation” from the
crowd he had not felt before.
We spoke on his hit song, “Straightjacket” that has a line
about a, “Psycho from a Mid-West suburb,” and I was curious whether he wrote
the song about anyone is particular which lead to a discussion about his
writing style and how he writes his music to which he responded by saying, “I
like to step out of the box and speak on a topic that I don’t really pertain to
with what I’ve been through, but I know people can relate to because people
have been through it.”
A breakthrough artist who has been on two tours with artists
Louis the Child and SoMo and now getting the opportunity to go on his first headlining
tour has loved traveling and seeing new cities all over the United States. Quinn
also stated that his favorite fast food stop while living life on the road has
to be Burger King but that after a night of drinking with the crew the most
visited spot has to be the classic golden arches of McDonalds. And although
tour life has many promising features along with his new life living in Los
Angeles, Quinn says he misses the laid-back lifestyle the Mid-West has as well
as spending time with his friends and family.
Mike is Quinn XCII’s real name, and the first name he used
when he began releasing music was Mike-T. Eventually he decided to switch it up
and go with an acronym that he heard from a college professor at Michigan State,
Quinn, which stands for: Quit Unless your Instincts are Never Neglected. This
acronym to him means, “If you don’t have an instinct saying to stop what you’re
doing, continue what you are pursuing.” Due to copyright reasons, he ended up
throwing in the XCII for the roman numerals that translate to the number 92,
which was the year he was born. Due to the complexity of the name story, Mike
decides to introduce himself as Quinn and simply go by that name in the music
As an up and coming artist who just recently signed with
Columbia Records, Quinn says that he doesn’t feel famous, or in other words
hasn’t felt that he is “under a microscope” and jokes that he has decided to
just relax and take it “One day at a time,” following that statement by, “No
pun intended with the tour name.” He states that most of all he is very humbled
that people enjoy his music and says it is the, “Best feeling in the world.” Quinn
has a new single that recently dropped called, “Make Time,” and Quinn stated
that a new album is in the works that will be followed by a two month fall tour
Following the interview, I was able to enjoy the concert
with the sold-out crowd and I danced with the melodic sounds of his music that
he claims is, “Great Summertime music,” and I will have to agree. His voice is
electrifying and his positive energy and genuine smile kept the vibes in the
crowd going as a majority of the crowd sang along song after song. Accompanied
by a live band on the keys and drums, his live act is very entertaining and he
brings a real energy to the show with his interaction with the crowd. I will
most definitely be seeing him on his fall tour!
Keep your eyes peeled for this up and coming talent in the pop
and electronic music scenes who is enjoying his new life in the music scene,
one day at a time.
True crime podcast Serial launched into wild popularity during its 2014 debut. Co-created by Sarah Koenig and Julie Snyder, the show is cited for groundbreaking work in long-form investigative journalism. Its first story, explored throughout the entire season, follows a 15-year-old murder case. Teenager Adnan Syed was convicted of strangling his ex-girlfriend in 1999, but he maintains his innocence to this day. The uncertainty was riveting. Koenig, the host, revealed new information each week as she uncovered it. At the release of its first episode, no one, not even Koenig, knew how Serial would end. Listeners couldn’t help but speculate. Did Adnan really do it? Where was he in those 21 minutes after school? What about the mystery of the Best Buy phone booth? Who lied, and why?
With all these questions floating around, I was unbelievably excited to attend Serial’s live show at the Paramount Theatre on Saturday. I wish I had pictures for you all to see, but unfortunately photography is not allowed inside. The building is absolutely stunning, though. It has these wonderful high ceilings and ornate decorations and big, warm lights that make it feel like an old theater from a different time. I would highly recommend on venue alone! But back to Serial.
I don’t think it would be an exaggeration to say that Serial changed the game for podcasting, journalism, and audio entertainment. Its creators were in Seattle to discuss how they made it happen. Before the show started, the screen displayed a rotating collage of scanned documents, drawings, and notes from Adnan’s case. It was strange to see these pages — lines of scrawled handwriting, sometimes blacked out in places — after only hearing them described out loud. It was certainly an effective reminder that true crime journalism is just that: true stories that affect real people.
Koenig and Snyder made their entrance to enthusiastic applause. It brought the show to life in a completely different way, as Koenig’s already-familiar voice filled the room. The two graciously introduced themselves. They still couldn’t believe how many people came out to see them. (After all, their initial goal for the podcast had been to reach 300,000 people. To date, Serial has had 264 million downloads!) Side by side, Koenig standing and Snyder perched a stool, they began to tell the story of Serial itself. Beginning with their early hopes for the podcast, they explained how it came to be the show we know today. They talked about the development process and how they overcame the challenges that appeared along the way. This included one story about a hilarious Facebook mishap some time ago. Koenig also detailed the nature of her relationship with Adnan — calculated but personal, not quite friends but not strictly business either.
Throughout this first part of the show, it was pretty hard not to be won over by these two ladies. The pair were surprisingly funny in an honest, matter-of-fact way. Judging from the laughter I heard around me, the rest of the crowd felt the same. Koenig and Snyder also acknowledged deficits in their investigation of Adnan’s case. They seemed to invite transparency about the deliberateness of their storytelling. Although that should be a given in journalism, it was still incredibly cool to hear the thoughts of the people behind Serial. The whole thing actually felt quite intimate. Koenig called this first part of the show a “speech”, but it was much more conversational than that and more like her comfortable narration on each episode.
The second half of the show was reserved for questions. Audience members lined up at microphones placed on each end of the main floor and balcony. People raised questions about various facts of Adnan’s case. Some asked about Serial’s second season, which aired last year. Others asked about the journalism itself. The number one takeaway? Fact check, fact check, fact check. Fact check everything.
In both halves of the show, Koenig and Snyder made excellent use of episode clips, pictures, and unaired interview tapes to illustrate the creation process. We even got to see a photo of hand puppets some middle schoolers had crafted to represent each character on season two. It was adorable in a kind of unsettling way.
Overall, it was a super rad night. I laughed a lot, learned a lot, and gained even more appreciation for all the work that goes into making a top-notch podcast. If there are any hardcore Serial fans who were unable to make it, I would highly recommend seeing them next time they make it out to Seattle.
Dirty Projectors began a while ago as the solo project of frontman David Longstreth, before finding success as a full band with their blend of experimental yet accessible indie pop on albums Bitte Orca and Swing Lo Magellan. However, a new self-titled album finds Dirty Projectors returning to its solo roots under Longstreth.
Dirty Projectors marks a change in style with its R&B inspired sound. Although I always appreciate artists trying new genres and changing up their music, some of these attempts work better than others. While there are many great moments on this album, a lot of it just does not seem to work so well; not totally unsuccessful, but lacking.
“Keep Your Name” makes the new stylistic turn of this album immediately clear, with it’s distinctive distorted vocals a bit jarring on first listen. The track comes across a bit as a failed experiment, with the vocal changes (including a pitch shifted sample from their last album in the background) proving to be more irritating than anything. The lyrics feel pretty harsh, with lines such as “I don’t think I ever loved you” and “What I want from art is truth, what you want is fame.”
“Up in Hudson” has some great instrumentation, yet it is brought down by rather awkward, unsubtle lyrics that feel out of place, including “And we both had girl and boyfriends blowing us up SMS” and “Now I’m listening to Kanye on the Taconic Parkway, riding fast/And you’re out in Echo Park, blasting 2pac, drinking a fifth for my ass.” The chorus, however, is probably one of the high points of the album, and the strong outro to the song helps save it despite these earlier flaws.
The remainder of the album is similarly inconsistent. While there are still great moments to be found, such as the refrain of “Little Bubble”, or the nice backing vocals from Dawn Richard on “Cool Your Heart”, other songs, such as “Work Together” just feel more annoying than anything else, with the overused effects detracting from the overall quality of the song. Some of the middle stretch of the album blends together a bit, with some less remarkable tracks. Although a bit disappointing in comparison to previous Dirty Projectors albums, it is by no means a bad album, with many strong moments on it despite some issues.
Khalid has been on my radar for quite some time now. He was part of my list of artists to watch this year, and he has entered the spotlight with American Teen. Khalid has proven he lives up to the hype, and that he knows how to have fun doing it.
Despite the tone of American Teen, most of the songs’ instrumentals are uplifting and catchy. Khalid primarily sings over ballads, but he goes out of his comfort zone on a few tracks. “Young Dumb & Broke” is one of the highlights, a trap-flavored track where Khalid encourages his fellow youth to act heinously while they can, because it won’t last. The majority of the tracks revolve around the theme of being young and reckless. It’s pretty fitting, considering Khalid is only 19 years old. Other tracks involve Khalid grieving about lost love and failed relationships, such as on “Another Sad Love Song.” The tone and instrumental clash here; the production is so infectious and groovy that the listener might not even know Khalid’s crooning about missing a past lover.
Khalid’s voice itself doesn’t impress often. He sits on the same pitch for the entire album. His tone rarely changes, so he sounds the same on every song. This isn’t necessarily terrible, because it conveys his vulnerability on the slower ballads. Otherwise, it’s disappointing, and I hope he takes more risks with his voice on the next album.
Another pitfall American Teen faces is its lyrics. Khalid’s lyrics are awfully surface level and a lot of them cover familiar ground. Most of the time he’s saying it in a different way; it only sounds different, but doesn’t feel different. “Coaster”, “Hopeless”, and “Shot Down” each encompass the feeling of being heartbroken. Complex lyrics are by no way a requirement for albums, but Khalid needs to find a way to effectively convey his feelings about love and youth in more than one or two forms.
Khalid has pretty much met my expectations with American Teen. The subject matter is focused but doesn’t deliver as distinctive. He tropes mundane topics through the 15 tracks, usually settling for a melancholy love song or an anthem for the adolescent. However, if the listener doesn’t pay too much attention to the lyrics, the album is wonderfully entertaining. The production is a mash-up of electronic, R&B, and trap that blends together remarkably well. American Teen is a fun album; just don’t expect to have any intellectual conversations about its themes. Listen to American Teenhere.
In 2014, someone needed music for a guacamole pool party. It was out of this need that electro-funk dance duo CAPYAC was born. Formed by Delwin Campbell and Eric Peana, CAPYAC’s self-dubbed “balloonwave” sound fits right in with the nu-disco genre, incorporating elements of soul, funk, and utter surreality. The Austin-based group is known in their local music scene for over-the-top performances focused on getting people to move. Last year, they released their debut album Headlunge. Popular single “Speedracer” was the highlight, featuring dreamy-sounding vocals over a groovy beat.
This year, CAPYAC has already dropped a new EP. Titled Fis, the project consists of four mostly instrumental tracks, incorporating the same funk and electronic influences as Headlunge. My verdict? Meh. While an admirable extension of CAPYAC’s take on French house, Fis did not leave me feeling nearly as impressed as I had hoped to be. The EP began with the 9-minute “No”. It’s decently funky and smooth, but it began to feel repetitive about halfway through. “Bubblegum” fared a little better, introducing energetic female vocals as a contrast to the mellower sounds of “No”. Fis found redemption in its fourth and final song. “Comfort Zone” fades in with CAPYAC’s usual electronic beats before throwing in a sweet (and slightly erratic) saxophone solo. It was a nice surprise, providing a glimpse of the eccentricity I would imagine CAPYAC to embrace in their shows.
All of the above being said, don’t let my words deter you from supporting this band. Their live performances seem like a blast, and I wholeheartedly recommend that you listen to “Speedracer”.
Born Amir Mohamed el Khalifa he’s better known as Oddisee which he goes by on stage. Oddisee grew up in Maryland close to Washington D.C. but lately works out of Brooklyn. As a Sudanese American Muslim who is also the son of an immigrant he has a unique perspective and voice that he expresses in his music, most recently with his new album The Iceberg.
Listen to Oddisee and you’ll be reminded of groups like A Tribe Called Quest with lyrics that examine identity, race, and politics. Oddisee has talked about growing up in one of the most affluent black neighborhoods which borders parts of town that aren’t so great. He loved hip-hop and rap but couldn’t relate to any of the gangster rap. Instead, he examines human nature and commentates on his experiences and social and political issues.
The Iceberg is a thought provoking masterpiece but one of the tracks that stands out with its powerful lyrics is “You Grew Up”. He raps about his best friend who was white “While I was trying to keep my Nikes clean/He was trying to scuff his Chucks up,” a small observation but it speaks to a bigger cultural divide. Think about these two music movements; Hip-Hop born out of the inner city in Brooklyn during the drug war and grunge born out of Seattle and teens from the suburbs. It’s a luxury to be able have new things and if you’re middle/upper middle class you come to take that as granted.
The song then goes on; “He blamed my father for the loss of his job/He said immigrants robbed citizens jobs”. This story and song begins to take on a different meaning especially with the rhetoric which our head of state has been spewing about immigrants. It goes on to describe how this friend became a police officer and the next time he saw him it was on the news for shooting a black man in his car by the park where they used to shoot hoops. The hook of this song is simple: “You grew up/No you didn’t change/You were made the same/As those before you came/You grew up/All our growing pains/Were given like our names/You just bought the blame/You grew up”. It touches on how much of who we are and how we act are based in social norms and how we are raised.
The next part of the song manages to capture yet another huge issue in America, terrorism. Oddisee explains that this part of the song was inspired by a story of a Sudanese man in Britain who became linked to ISIS. Rather than describing the terror this man he humanizes the ‘terrorist’. He paints the picture of a normal boy with two parents who were professors but was ostracized in school for the way he looked and the way he acted, for being who he is. Oddisee raps, “People of the present had faces of the past, make it easier to blast them if he feel they did him wrong”. It’s not excusing the behavior but instead trying to get people to understand where this hatred comes from.
“You Grew Up” is a meditation on what it means to be a person of color in America today. There’s police brutality, immigration, racism, and even more prevalent the subtle everyday reminders that you are different. Another standout track is “Like Really” which focuses on racial injustice, Oddisee asks “How you gonna make us great, when we were never really that amazing” and “How you saying all lives matter when the stats say we are not adjacent”. It’s a questioning of America asking how it can be so cold and cruel to people who call themselves Americans but aren’t white when they are just as American as the next person.
Lastly, the song “NNGE” or “Never Not Getting Enough”. If you’re looking for a new song to get you inspired for the latest protest you’re attending this is the song to listen to. Oddisee witnessed countless protests and movements exercise their right to assemble growing up right by the nation’s capitol which contributed to this song. “NNGE” is a call to be positive in these times, the line: “If you’re new to disrespect by your elected puppeteers/Well let me show you how to persevere,” sums it up pretty well. Other tracks to note: “Things”, “Rain Dance”, and “Rights and Wrongs”.
This album captures today’s issues; the unrest and anxiousness about the future. It touches on almost every issue you can think of that people are out marching and protesting for everyday which is what makes this album so great. Not only that but it’s nuanced; he struggles with how we can be of the same kind but have all this conflict because of meaningless differences. It’s a call to action even if it’s not directly so and a reminder that we all come from the same place. It’s an album defining a movement. The people’s movement.