Archive

Uncategorized

kilo-kash-main

The best art is borne out of honesty. Whether that honesty manifests itself in an abstract expression or a concrete but indirect performance, art that is true to who the artist is is the more pure manifestation. It’s what drove me to become a writer: an aching need from a young age to find the best way to get out the naked vulnerabilities and anxieties that consume me in a healthy manner.

Reflections In Real Time is as straightforward a title as you can get with regard to the subject matter on the latest record by the 25 year old singer-songwriter Kilo Kish. The album is a direct, brutal, hilarious and existential self-examination of a life lived so far. From a dazzling, musical theatre-style opening about growing up with the name Lakisha and the associations it carried in both school and work to a delicate culminating number that sees her making peace with the life she’s lived and feeling comfortable in her current existence while remembering all those emotions and fears she spent the album pouring out.

Reflections In Real Time is a concept record about coming of age. The awkwardness, self-consciousness and fretting over the big things like finding meaning and the small things like being cool. The album is littered with an anxiousness about “getting things right” and being “okay” and Kish spends a good deal of the record trying to convince herself of her worth. On “Fears Of A Dilettante”: in the midst of feelings of imposter’s syndrome and wavering self-esteem, she sings the refrain “I’m blowing a good life” in an exasperated panic; “I don’t know where to go/ That’s life I suppose” she resignedly sings at the end. She wants to believe in herself but the voices that counter any confidence or good measure feel louder. It’s a constant battle: one that she’s also aware of as being a part of living; a series of emotions conflicting, merging and fighting within us, daring to swallow you whole.

Reflections In Real Time is almost embarrassingly personal and honest about its subject. The type of brutal openness that can make someone feel naked in front of a large audience. It is the album as personal essay; a fitting product at a time when the personal essay market is oversaturated. The desire to tell ”your story” is both tempting and horrific: putting yourself out there to be judged by strangers is never comfortable but the release of that story and the feeling that you’ve said something new and worthwhile is an incredibly freeing act.

A byproduct of this and social media is that discussion of anxiety and depression are more open than they’ve ever been. The expression of mental health issues on the internet feels prevalent at a higher volume than anyone who grew up without social media or in an environment that stifled such talk could ever imagine.  Reflections dabbles in depression in its constant quarreling over societal and existential anxieties. The fluttery “Existential Crisis Hour!” interlude features a series of questions like “If I can’t choose to be born and I’m meant to make my own rules but I must die, Is there a point?” addressed to her own subconscious. The worrying over whether or not anything in this life is actually worth doing is a legitimate fear for a lot of people. A constant thought that can consume a person especially as the negatives of life overpowers or just overshadows any positives.

Kilo Kish doesn’t explicitly address depression on the album but there’s plenty of fragmented confessionals found to connect with those subsumed by it. The beauty of the record’s frankness is that it feels like a conversation. Listening to the album can be like seeing a therapist just as much as getting therapy; more importantly, it feels safe. Even with a more open environment for vocalizing depression, there hasn’t been much done to feel safer about it. What was once simply dismissed, ignored or “prayed away” is now moving into a new arena of concern trolling and diagnosing. No matter the intention: there’s a know-it-all, armchair psychologist attitude taken by people who feel fit to decide that there’s something wrong with you and that “someone” should get you help that’s less sincerity and more “bless their heart”. I found more peace listening to this record and having my fears and concerns identified and made to feel valid than I ever could have by anyone else looking down on me like a sick puppy. Depression comes in many packages and manifests in different ways, but a record like Reflections In Real Time feels like a powerful tool of self-care and relief simply by saying: I see you.

Advertisements

rihanna-work-gifs

Let’s first discuss what dancing is: Wikipedia says that dance is a performance art form consisting of purposefully selected sequences of human movement. This movement has aesthetic and symbolic value, and is acknowledged as dance by performers and observers within a particular culture. Seems simple enough, dancing is expression using the human body, often times reflective of a particular culture. It’s a very simple point that simply needs to be brought up anytime the western world has a heart attack over black people dancing suggestively.

This week Rihanna did a thing, which usually means that the internet is full of loud, unasked for opinions. This particular thing was the release of two separate music videos for her single “Work” featuring Drake: music videos that featured Rihanna destroying the boundaries of time and space by being too fine to make logical sense –or as many others have put it–affirming the restrictive shackles of patriarchy and The Male Gaze™ by parading herself as a sexual object and “grinding” on Drake or something.

If this sounds stupid, that’s only because it is. If there’s something the internet loves as much as slander, it’s probably falling all over themselves to use big, scholarly tumblr words and concern-troll the state of women or people of color in any given moment. I’m not going to make the case that shouldn’t have to be made that Rihanna is her own woman with control over her image who cannot objectify herself or point out that if there’s one object in these videos it’s actually Drake or hell, even make the case that using Rihanna’s past relationship with Chris Brown to shame her for being openly sexual is beyond gross and the most perfect example of people using faux-concern to push their own flimsy, bullshit agendas onto other people or celebrities that feel that they are entitled to (but seriously this the fucking worst thing of all). Instead, I’m going to use this time to explain what dancing is.

First off, I understand that we live in America: a place where the idea of outlawing dancing isn’t just a terrible idea for a movie but also a terrible idea for an actual law in places. Obviously, this isn’t the only country that does it but as a self-professed “christian nation”, it always seems to come back to the idea of dance as a satanic ritual whenever cases like these are found. This may shed a strong light on why so many people turn into your middle school teacher running around the gymnasium with their separation ruler at the thought of even the most suggestive bit of dancing. Naturally, these same people watch just a modicum of Caribbean dancehall/dutty wine and turn into the dowager countess from Downton Abbey. I know you’re scared and confused and feel like children will be corrupted or the male gaze has something something something, but I promise it’s ok.

Both dancehall and wine are dances that are well-known in caribbean culture as energetic expressions against vivacious island music. Despite how sexual you might paint it in your head because of your own repressed sexual desires that you can’t keep a lid on, it is not inherently sexual. It’s dancing and regardless of whether someone brings a ladder to the dancefloor, climbs it and then jumps off into another woman’s crotch (which I’m sure has happened), it does not become sex until it is actually sex and your personal fixation or objectification of this type of dance has everything to do with you and not the actual dancers.

Is there a sexual-ness being expressed in these dances? of course, but there is a big difference between someone putting out their own sexual energy and you deciding what kind of sexual deviancy is on display. In simpler terms, objectification is less to do with the subject than it is with the people watching.

So maybe keep the hashtag thoughts you have about Rihanna or any woman (and they’re always women) dancing how she chooses to dance to yourself. You’re not deep, nobody believes your concerned and you’re not an ally. All you’re really doing is telling on yourself and exposing the fact that you can’t keep your shit together when a woman does a physical activity. And hey man, I get it; I lose my shit when Rihanna dances too but maybe you should just let the moment wash over you like the baptism it is than running to the internet being irate because “such dancing is unbecoming in our society, my stars”. Stop thinkpiecing and fucking go outside, or go learn how to dance yung footloose.

2015 BET Awards - Show

At the End of The Sellout, Paul Beatty’s merciless satire of the intersection between black culture and America, there’s a moment when the main character stands up in a room full of other black people and poses the question: what exactly is “our” thing?”

For much of 2015 we’ve seen a surplus of rappers grapple with their identity. From how they look at themselves to how they look at their people to what fame has meant to their lives within this context; the music has been a reflection of the internal conflict these artists face.

Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp A Butterfly is the most obvious example of this. Both for its obvious uses of symbolism to talk about fame and for its explicit college textbook insight on Blackness. Kendrick’s purposefully uncomfortable, erratic record finds him jumbling guilt and success and the concept of duty. “What does Kendrick Lamar represent” is a question that weighs heavily on his mind and it’s a question he is constantly working through. A song like “The Blacker The Berry” rages against systemic racism before confronting intercommunity violence by veering dangerously close if not right into respectability. And yet, you have a song like “Alright” that promotes the idea that no matter how bad it gets for black people in America, we will survive. It’s our “We Shall Overcome” and its usage in protests and parties signify such. Kendrick uses the desolate environment from which he came and his newfound fame as a springboard to express his turmoil, much in the same way that Vince Staples does in his major label debut: Summertime ‘06. But where Kendrick is ultimately motivated by religious faith and hope, Vince comes off mostly jaded and hardened; choosing to personify the various characters spiraling towards the same dead end that is urban plight.

On the album’s most melancholy track “Summertime”, Vince laments: “my teacher told us we was slaves, my momma told us we were kings/I don’t know who to listen to, I guess we’re somewhere in between”. These are lines that pierce the heart and get to the root at the tug of war between what blackness means to society and how black people have to counterbalance it. There is no benevolent God in Vince’s world. The moral arc of the universe bends towards chaos and Vince expresses an acceptance in this fact while still chasing after any beauty that may be left. Instead of hope, Vince gives you the stories of dealers, crackheads, gangsters and those who mourn to remind you that there are people living in ruin that deserve to be heard. There’s survivor’s guilt in these raps much as in the same way there’s survivor’s guilt hidden passed the decadence and thrill in most trap music. Maybe the biggest example of this in 2015 is found in Future’s music.

I’d argue that there isn’t anyone in music who had a more eventful year than Future. For Future, his 2015 started in October 2014 with the release of his Monster mixtape; a tape that saw him backtrack from that pop direction of his last album Honest and return to a grimier, street aesthetic while still maintaining just as much vulnerability. “Throw Away” is a breakup song in the truest sense: full of anger, defensiveness, passion and tears. It’s at one moment completely ridiculous (“fucking these hoes mean too damn much to you”) and the next extremely open-hearted (“if loving me in public ain’t safe, you can take my love and hide it”). “Codeine Crazy” is just textbook depression: an open admission to taking drugs to feel better about life. Future followed Monster up with 2 more great mixtapes (Beast Mode and 56 Nights) that follow this same trajectory before releasing his 3rd album, Dirty Sprite 2. DS2 is one long sad party: the musical embodiment of being in the coolest place imaginable: bottles popping, money being thrown around and beautiful people everywhere and yet still feeling like shit because you realize you’re still empty inside. What separates Future the most from the other artists mentioned in this essay is that his feelings are rarely explicit. They come out in fragments and bursts during songs that on the face feel like party records or drug glorification. When Future raps that he’s “an addict and I can’t even hide it”, it’s nothing short of a cry for help hidden in your favorite chest pumping, turn up song. This is even more apparent in his collab record with Drake, What A Time To Be Alive. Both rappers more often than not, seem to be recording two different albums.

Future isn’t even hiding his depression most of the time here: going from heartbreak and sadness in “Digital Dash” to survivor’s remorse in “Live From The Gutter”. WATTBA is not a great record but it is an interesting one full of more pain that was probably expected from casual fans of Future (and from the album title itself). A fun activity that many people who are charged with writing about music seem to be engaging in is the contrasting of Drake and Future as the story between an opportunistic, vain sycophant (Drake) and a nihilistic, pure street rapper (Future) but these labels are unfair to both men. Drake has spent an entire career wearing his heart on his sleeve for better or for worse. Regardless of whether or not you think the music is good, Drake is an artist who expresses everything about himself. He’s an open book: we know when he’s in love, when his heart aches, when he’s being passive aggressive or condescending and when he’s just committing to the “business of rap” in order to sell himself as a product.

Drake’s album/mixtape If You’re Reading This, It’s Too Late didn’t signify a change so much as it allowed Drake to fully embrace the Jay Z lying inside him. Full of calculated bangers, cockiness and joie de vivre, the album felt different from Drake’s previous work in that it focused less on emotions and more on the moment. That’s not to say it’s completely devoid of insight, one of the best lines of the whole record comes from “You & the 6”, a personal conversation between him and his mother, where he raps “I used to get teased for being black and now I’m here and I’m not black enough”. There’s always been an inherent whiff of this attitude in the criticisms levied at Drake, whether it’s about his persona, his musical acumen or his brand. Drake’s blackness for whatever reason (be it how he carries himself or his racial makeup) is allowed to be dissected and, at least for this year, Drake has addressed it at many points in his music this year. Drake may be Disney at this point but it seems silly to pretend he’s never exposed his soul for his audience.

For my money, the best exploration of blackness in terms of fame and inner torment was made by Earl Sweatshirt. Earl’s third album, I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside, picks up where Doris left off: exploring a celebrity that Earl never asked for and resents while trying to figure out what kind of person he wants to be. I Don’t Like Shit is filled with the ghosts of personal demons floating throughout. It is everything that To Pimp A Butterfly is without the pretense or the theatrics; punch your soul music over punch your face beats. Earl is the most fascinating person in rap to me because he seems to openly hate being a rapper while loving rap. His music is guarded and purposely uninviting in order for him to feel comfortable enough to actually share himself.  Celebrity is hell and for a black artist, it can feel even more intolerable; if there was a theme amongst many rappers in 2015 it was that music could allow for a way to cope in this prison. More important to that blackness, these artists proved that the question of what “our thing” is is more prescient than ever.

Twitter killed its fave feature and joined the ranks of instagram and facebook in utilizing “likes”. So now, what was once a star is now a little heart and because the internet is deathly afraid of change, people were not happy.

I get it. Things that are new are scary. Starring tweets was comforting: like when your tweet put a gold star on your homework assignment because you did a good job. “Hey kid, that’s a good tweet. Here’s a gold star. I am proud of you.” That’s nice to receive when you’re working overtime to make people pay attention to you online. But I think a heart is even more encouraging: it’s the extra kick you need that encourages you to keep tweeting. The easiest argument against the heart is that it’s too forward. It’s called the like button but it doesn’t really feel like a “like”, it feels like a “love”; as in, you LOVE this tweet. You’re probably thinking to yourself that a tweet is fine, you may even like it… but do you love it, and if you don’t, are you prepared to lie just to keep that tweet around.

Well I say do it. Who cares if you don’t love that tweet? You at least like it enough to consider it so why not entertain this lie. As a bonus, it’ll make the tweet maker feel really good. Also, from an aesthetic perspective, the like button is wonderful. You press it and it explodes in this quick orgasmic burst that just gives you joy. I’ve been liking tweets I don’t even care about just to see it over and over again.

If there is a valid criticism to be had about it, it’s the potential increase in misunderstandings. Twitter is already full of people (let’s be honest, mostly men) who read too much into things such as a woman favoriting a bunch of their tweets. The like feature just complicates that more because now it feels like she LOVES your tweets. Does she love your tweets enough for you to slide in the DMs? Probably not, but you’ll convince yourself that the answer is yes anyways. It’s here that we enter into what I now dub “The Heart Eyes Conundrum”. I’ll explain: every so often, I actually post a selfie on my instagram and sometimes when I do a woman friend of mine will comment with “😍😍😍”. There are a number of ways one could take this: 1) maybe she’s just being nice 2) maybe she just appreciates the fact that I look gorgeous in my photo or 3) maybe she’s in love with me. There’s a good chance that the heart eyes under a pic from a friend doesn’t mean anything at all…. but what if it does. Hence, “The Heart Eyes Conundrum”. But on the other hand, if it is your intention to tell someone you love them in vague, indiscriminate ways, this is perfect. My friend Monique and I, have a recurring joke about the use of faving tweets to hint that you’re interested in someone and clearly someone at twitter was paying attention to us #influencers because now we have a less subtle tool to fire off those sublikes. “Hey great tweet, also I’m in love with you”, “wow I like the way you think, also I can’t live without you”, “haha that’s really fun, we should get married”; the new like button can allow you to say so many more words than ever before.

The other problem here is the use of the casual fave seems irresponsible now. I and many other others used to fave tweets purely as mere acknowledgements that your tweet was read. It was a read receipt that was silently understood. The heart seems excessive for that and could lead to misunderstandings you never planned for. This is what I refer to as “The Ralph Wiggum Paradox”. In the season 4 episode of The Simpsons titled “I Love Lisa”, Ralph is the only kid in class who didn’t get a Valentine’s Day card from the other kids. Lisa feels bad so she just takes one of her leftover cards and puts Ralph’s name on it and hands it to him out of pity. Ralph is understandably excited but he takes this purely nice gesture as genuine interest. The card said “I choo-choo-choose you” and Ralph believes it fully with no real evidence that Lisa has ever shown an interest in him before. Lisa did something to be nice and to let Ralph know that his existence is acknowledged but instead Ralph took the action literally and believed himself to be cho-cho-chose. On the surface it would seem silly that someone might read too much into a “like” for a response to a tweet about a good Jamaican restaurant in the city, but when you see that heart icon show up in your notifications it does something to you and causes you to believe things that make no sense. With great likes come great responsibility.

Of course, none of these genuine concerns are the real heart of the issue. It’s about exclusivity and the specialness of twitter over the instagrams and the facebooks. The star separated twitter and without it, it’s just a reminder that twitter is moving closer to the uncool zone and we’ll all soon be moving on to something else. I mean, I’m sure this is true but at least the hearts are nice to look at before we go.

Anthropologists talk about this idea of observers unduly influencing the subjects they observe. A child might behave differently if their parents are in the room with them. I might behave differently at Popeyes if there are judgmental white people around and any given person may act differently if they know they’re on TV. Deep down, most people are prone to performative behaviors if they know it brings attention, and the more attention that comes, the more amped up that performance may become.

Tonight, I watched a documentary on HBO titled Captivated: The Trials of Pamela Smart. It’s a documentary that came out over a year ago which captures the salacious story of a small-town woman accused of getting the teenage boy that she was sleeping with to murder her husband. The trial became famous due to media coverage of the entire affair from start-to-bottom and, as a result, her guilt by public opinion turned into guilt by the law. It was an almost perfectly gift-wrapped story: you had this woman, temptress if you will, who seemed to “love being a widow” as one talking head points in the beginning, who had an affair with a teenager and, worst of all, didn’t come off as warm or innocent enough. I don’t think it’s out of order to see that she did initially enjoy the attention of newscasters and reporters visiting her and putting a camera in her face allowing her to tell her story. Attention is addictive, no matter the context it comes in.

It’s 1990, the internet we know of doesn’t exist yet, there’s no social media and there’s no reality programs. When Pamela Smart went on TV for the first time to talk about her husband being murdered, this was the highest platform a woman like her from a New England town would ever get and she worked it. She tried to sell herself as a loving, caring wife; maybe this was because she didn’t want anyone to know about her affair, maybe she didn’t want anyone to know she was an accomplice to murder or maybe she just genuinely liked the lights and the cameras and the reporters (one of the original reporters mentioned that she’d told him her dream of being a news anchor at one point), maybe she just liked the attention.

As a collective people like to be entertained more than anything else (except maybe loved but even love can be entertainment, but that’s another essay). Neither Donald Trump nor Ben Carson have any business in an American political race, yet they persevere because they’re “fun”. They get the blogs bloggin and let them churn out that sweet, sweet content. There’s a reality show/webseries about any subject under the sun because why not? Everyone wanted to be on The Real World right? This is your chance. True crime and Court TV specials have assembled an audience on onlookers mesmerized by horrific, psychotic actions who remove themselves from the fact that they’re watching real people in order to enjoy it as pulp. Every year, there’s guaranteed to be a “Trial of the Century”, where the court of public opinion can armchair quarterback a case instead of worrying themselves about reasonable doubt or the justice system. It is a wonder that we haven’t installed court side seats at these trials for Jack Nicholson or Rihanna to show up in or installed a kiss-cam to hover over the trial audience. The next big televised trial might even be sponsored by DraftKings.

The Pamela Smart case gained attention fast and as more and more info about it came out, the more people became enamored of it. For as much as Pamela was assumed to have enjoyed the cameras, as the story got a national audience, you suddenly had local news reporters, local police and eventual trial witnesses being invited to talk on national news programs and daytime talk shows and wherever Geraldo Rivera’s mustache was located at that moment. It’s easy to say that this holds no bearing on a criminal case but you have local players going on TV and maybe they’re being completely honest, but they’re also visibly getting into being on a platform and having people listen to them and watch them. You become cognizant of this and you start acting like it, you put on a performance. Maybe it’s an honest one but it’s an exaggerated one for an audience that’s eager to eat it up. Pamela Smart’s case became the first huge Trial of the Century: filled with TV cameras, reporters and onlookers, many of whom already forming a belief about what they think happened based on the sensationalist, exploitative nature of the news up until that point. By the time the trial started, there were already TV movies and books being written about this case and this woman and key witnesses were signing TV rights for this story. It’s easy to say what the media can and can’t do to influence public opinion, but to be a juror (or judge) and see so many people this captivated and entranced by a story will put pressure on you to make the “right” decision. Because you know that everyone is watching.

Today, we’re in the “age of social media”. The internet is evolving and with that comes ways for any person to reach a large audience. Twitter, i particular, has been in my life since 2009. What started as a silly platform to be an idiot on with friends during breaks between classes at my college, turned into my most honest public mouthpiece. I connected with people I never would’ve without it and it was cool. There were people who had more followers than me and whose tweets got more attention than mine, which was fine but like anyone else would, I wanted to say something that would garner similar attention for no other reason than the self-satisfaction of someone liking the things you say. I don’t know when exactly the first person who became famous because of twitter happened or even who it was; what I do know is that a shift happened where people realized that an online audience could translate to offline success. I saw people who never would have been given a chance without the internet prove that they could make something of themselves and build a loyal audience. In a lot of ways, it was beautiful but twitter/internet popularity is a lot like a popular TV show. Whatever persona you created to make yourself a more marketable personality becomes your calling card: if you’re a comic, you’re just the comic, if you’re a sports guy, you’re just the sports guy, if you’re a feminist, you’re just the feminist. People want all the old familiar beats from their old favorites and you can see people straining themselves to fulfill these roles. In the end, what you’re left with are characters rather than people and agendas over conversations. The worst byproduct of this is the need to be right on the internet. No learning, no growth for people who do this; the point is to look smart, worldly and perceptive in front of an audience. Admitting you’re wrong would make you human and being human isn’t marketable. Nobody wants to be the one who doesn’t say the “right” thing, even if that right thing is based on nothing but popular perception.

There’s a way in which you can become so invested in the news the way you are invested in a movie. It happened during Ferguson and Baltimore, it happened when Tonya Harding sent the goons after Nancy Kerrigan, it happened for the OJ car chase. As you watch these news stories, you invest in them the way you would characters in a movie and it becomes most dangerous when it’s time for the payoff.  When it was time for a verdict to be passed down regarding Pamela Smart, there had been days and days of content and rhetoric and opinionating done on her character. If you had access to a TV or to a newspaper, you knew who she was and a picture of her had been painted in your mind. Her guilt or innocence is almost an aside to the much more tantalizing story of a Hot-to-trot married psychopathic schoolteacher who seduced a teenager and got him to murder her husband. That’s a movie anyone would want to see but not if it doesn’t have the right ending. To pretend that the spotlight and wild narratives written had no bearing or influence on a jury is incredibly silly. Nobody is impervious to that shit. “Listen to the music. He’s evil!”. Perception isn’t the only thing but it’s a thing,

Attention is addictive. It might be more loved than money but the desire is supposed to be secret. It reveals our narcissism and that’s not proper etiquette. The Trayvon Martin case is one of the most heartbreaking public trials of my lifetime. One of the more poisonous, corrosive narratives that took place was that of George Zimmerman the folk hero who stood up to a scary black teenager. Whether or not the jury was influenced by outside media is unknown but what I do remember is rumors of a juror signing a book deal to recount her story of her time on the trial and going on the 24 hour newscycle to talk about how hard of a decision this was for her and her fellow jurors. Brave. What’s a good movie without a sequel right? The thing about the cameras is that they always leave and sometimes you’ll do what it takes to keep them around a little bit longer.

I don’t believe in conspiracy theories because most of them are boring. The truth is always more fascinating than some overly wrought, Game of Thrones-style deception. By the end of Captivated, I didn’t know if Pam Smart was guilty or innocent but what I do know was that her trial was not objective and everyone deserves that. The main takeaway from watching this was getting to see the early road towards twitter/instagram, reality TV and 24 hour news, and getting to see how the promise of ratings, fame and even money could play a part in influencing behavior. Blogs write outrage-inducing headlines because it gets clicks, the news shows exploitative images because it keeps eyes glued and violent images are popular in our media because people love violence. You do what works until it stops working. To pretend that the media or even other people are expected to keep a moral code is a convenient way to ignore how culpable we are in helping engineer this ship. You get the culture you deserve and so far we’ve all decided we want to be entertained.

Ryan Adams released his promised remake of Taylor Swift’s 1989 this week. It’s a quiet, incredibly thought-out reinterpretation that feels as full of reverence for the original as nostalgia of the time period that album title refers. It’s also kind of a dadzbop record; an album that will appeal to people who don’t want to listen to Taylor Swift because she’s a pop artist and not a sensitive white dude strumming a guitar.

But it is lovely to listen to and it’s a pretty great gesture for an artist of Ryan Adam’s stature to not only embrace Swift’s album but want to make loving interpretation of it. It’s also a little disheartening how many push against the idea of it happening.

Album remakes in and of itself are a curious case. Using another’s art as inspiration to create a unique response to said art shouldn’t be a bad thing. In the 50s and 60s, Black artists would remake songs of their white counterparts and vice versa, but a lot of that was due to the segregation of radio. Music is a genre with a lot of political baggage and in the case of Ryan Adams and Taylor Swift (and also the business of writing about music on the internet), the politics are inescapable. In the age of poptimism and the sweeping popularity for non-white male centered music, a thing like Ryan Adam’s “1989” feels not only like stepping backwards but fuels (however unintentional) these ideas about authenticity and real artistry in music.

One need only to look at recent essays from both the NY Times and The Washington Post, to see dismissive and condescending attitudes towards pop music but especially the way in which pop music has become a critical darling as opposed to the butt of many a serious music writer’s jokes. As this pop adoration continues, the vocal dissenters continue to push back; part of this push back usually consists of speaking up in favor of rock music, which usually involves the idea that rock is the thing that is pure and real in a world of what they see as artificial, plastic music.

There is a classist attitude in all of this that Ryan Adams both benefits and earns demerits from. So when the album finally came out, on twitter, you could see people incredibly excited to listen to it and you could also see people who felt the need to protect the artistry of Taylor Swift. Divorcing the politics of music from the actual music is a difficult task and, in this scenario, is close to impossible to do.

It also should be noted that Taylor’s status as a woman in popular culture and Ryan Adam’s maleness and the maleness of his music are also at play. There’s certainly sexism on display if not because of this record than around it, but a great deal of it seems to be people reacting to sexism they assume is probably happening but haven’t seen. Does it exist? Probably, but for the most part the only people who are obsessing over “what this record means” are people who write for a living.

Cover songs at their best are love letters to our favorite songs or musical moments. At their worst, they’re cheap cash-ins and, at their worser, they are goofs or attempts at irony. This is the sword with which rap music has been the most speared, but a lot of pop and electronic music has been smited in this way. The acoustic song version of a pop song was once a popular pastime for going viral and has rarely ever been done with any sincerity or love for the original song. Sure, you might get an Afghan Whigs cover of an R&B song that actually feels well-arranged and performed by people who actually listen to those songs, but a good amount of these covers are goofs meant to poke fun at the silliness of a pop record while upholding the status quo of true artistry.

Ryan Adams’ “1989” works because it is both been blessed by Taylor Swift and is made by someone who loves her music. If you like this Ryan Adams record, it’s because you like Ryan Adams but it’s also because you like Taylor Swift’s music. You can’t divorce the two things because the album doesn’t allow you to, even if you would rather find comfort in the familiar blanket of quiet, emotionally charged Replacement-era vibes. You can run from poptimism if you’d like but pop music cannot be escaped or abandoned. All of your faves probably owe a lot to popular artists anyways, Ryan Adams just had the awareness to hat tip and show his appreciation.

Drake and Future have been teasing the idea of a joint mixtape for awhile but, like any promise of a joint tape, it was mostly disregarded as a fan service-y tease. Then it was announced that there was indeed a record that had been put together that was expected to be released soon. Despite this, there was a feeling that this album was just a troll and that it wouldn’t actually come out; there was even a countdown website for it that froze once it got to 6 seconds and never materialized into anything. It was starting to look like a sure bet that this record wasn’t going to happen and a not-insignificant number of people were pretty ok with that. But then Sunday night happened and Drake premiered songs from the album on his Beats1 radio show OVOsound. So now we have an album: What A Time To Be Alive; an album that I’ve listened to about 4 times now that I’m mostly pleased to announce is pretty good.

Part of this favorable feeling has to do with the fact that I came in with low expectations. Future is on a tear right now: since October 2014 he’s released 3 great mixtapes and a great album but better than that is he’s actually being appreciated for them while they are happening. He’s been the wave for 2015 and Drake, like his true mentor Jay Z, was absolutely guaranteed to find a way to surf along it. Drake is the biggest star in the game right now, possibly more so than Kanye, and (possibly as a result) is also the biggest opportunist. Jumping on hot songs or potentially hot songs or songs he wishes he had made first and “boosting” them with the Drake effect™. Who benefits more from the Drake effect is of great debate, a lot of the time though it feels like a platform to promote Drake as relevant while another artists gets as much shine as they can before the crowds disperse.

With that being said, the most pleasant surprise about this album is that this album is mostly on Future’s terms. Metro Boomin is a co-producer on all but one song and Future takes the lead on the majority of songs. On most Drake-featured songs, everyone is just an opening act for Drake but here Future gets to be Batman while Drake plays… well not Robin but, I don’t know Catwoman or something. The album is better for it and goes on to further prove that nobody is seeing Future and his reliable cast of producers, particularly Metro Boomin. So with that said, let’s rank these songs:

1   Jumpman

This is the one. This is the crash your car into a tree on purpose because the drugs made you do it record. CHICKEN WINGS AND FRIES, WE DON’T GO ON DATES; come on son. Fuck your candlelight dinner and your Netflix and chill, you better come get this 5 dollar box from Popeye’s with me. Future is the star of this tape sometimes, seemingly, by design and the album does its best to keep up with his energy and his sound. Metro Boomin showed out all over this record and on this song, Drake has his best “trying to keep up with Future’s energy” performance here. This is the soundtrack to Actavis suicide.

2.   Diamonds Dancing

This is probably my personal favorite song on the record and I’m kind of a little bit ashamed of this fact. Out of all the songs on this record, this feels the most on Drake’s terms –mostly, in that, this is his crocodile tears beta man song about whatever girl pissed him off by being independent this week. But, once again, Metro helps put together something really special for this record and Future is one of my favorites at melding introspective sensitivity and greasy aggression. The Drake tirade at the end should bump this down a few spots but somehow it doesn’t; this is his best performance on the album honestly. He’s in his comfort zone, plus him and Future get to harmonize on the chorus like fucking Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton on this shit. It can’t lose.

3.   I’m The Plug

“I’m The Plug” is such a good Future song and I wish Drake wasn’t on it. But sure go ahead Drizzy tell us about how you’re really the plug. Like really. I mean that’s what all those Paulie from Goodfellas tracksuits were about right?

4.   Scholarships

Drake probably paid for so many stripper’s degrees. I mean it’s a good thing; education is important. Speaking of which:

5.   Plastic Bag

Come on, you didn’t think you were getting a Drake and Future album without a strip club ballad. You know, something to serenade your favorite dancer with at the booty club of your choosing. Let her know it’s a good night to dance on you. You gonna go broke by the time this song is over and it’s only like 4 minutes long. It’s all good though, she deserves it. “Magic City on a Monday/We worship there like a Sunday” needs to be framed somewhere in your home immediately.

6.   Jersey

This is the solo Future joint and he’s in full-victory lap mode. “You do what you want when you poppin”, you damn right bruh! Talk yo shit! Future has had an incredible run this year and plenty has been said about the fact. I wasn’t in love with Honest but I felt like it’s outright dismissal was pretty unfair. This attitude served as solid motivation for him though and look where we’re at now. He really did catch the wave.

7.   Change Locations

“Me and my friends we got money to spend”

8.   Digital Dash

The albums hits the gas right from jump, making you already second guess your fear about this album coming to fruition. That’s hot takeish sure but we live in the age of the instant reaction, which, if it’s done nothing else good, it’s at least caused an influx of good album intros. “I might take Quentin to Follies” is peak-troll Drake by the way, that guy is adorable sometimes.

9.   Big Rings

I’m not a fan of Drake’s chorus but whatever. It’ll be fun to scream out whilst drunk in the club spending money you can’t afford to be spending. We blowing the whole rent check at the strip club for our tings. Sidenote: “You just a battle rapper, I’m an official trapper”, who’s that for Future? Because I know of a particular battle rapper right now who seems to be having a misunderstanding with your album partner  right now. Are you choosing sides bruh? Being a little bit of a shady boots or nah?

10.   Live From The Gutter

Honestly, this would be higher but I enjoy the Young Thug version of this Metro beat more.

Future’s good on it too though and also lol at Drake being on a song called “Live From The Gutter”. Get your authenticity points like Pokemon my guy.

11.   30 For 30

This is the Drake solo song. It’s fine. Drake does his Drake thing that he’s been doing for long enough that it barely even registers with me much anymore. It’s all just… fine. He’s the Alabama Crimson Tide quarterback of rap.

And that’s it. Something that could’ve been awful turned out alright. However you feel about these two artists, they provided for a fun night on the internet that will probably go on for at least the rest of the week. Thank God for Metro Boomin, and, despite all the players in this, somehow one of the biggest winners in this whole thing will probably be Ernest Baker. What a time to be alive indeed.

%d bloggers like this: