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I don’t know where history stands on Bloc Party. I was so sure by now there’d be the big revisit of their first album, 2005’s Silent Alarm, or at the very least they’d headline one of the big music festivals where–like with The Killers–everyone could pretend they were totally into them the whole time. No such thing has occurred: you won’t even hear “Banquet” on a movie trailer anymore. It could be that nobody really cared about this band. Not that they weren’t liked but just that nobody cared. I don’t even know why I care.

I revisited the album on a whim; in my current depressive and borderline suicidal state I did what I always do and reached for the warm, history-rewriting hands of nostalgia. Nostalgia can be euphoric in small doses for a person like me, who is always miserable or at least prone to misery. It says “hey remember when you were young and thought you were miserable, those were actually your best days.” I was in high school when Silent Alarm came out; I discovered it through a Simpsons message board I was a member of. “Banquet” was also a pretty big song around that time but for me it’s dull and easy. “Like Eating Glass” was the better single and perfect way to start the album; overflowing with controlled chaos and emotion.

I don’t really believe in the idea of “not knowing how good you have it”. It’s dismissive of very real problems that affect humans of any age. If you’re a kid prone to depression like I was it shouldn’t be treated as a phase; the kinda beautiful (but still dangerous) thing about nostalgia though is that it skips the everyday drudgery and just gives you the “best of” moments of your youth where there’s no barking from the dogs, no smog and momma cooks the breakfast with no hog. This allows you to find the comfortable pockets to build a home in. I don’t remember too many details about that time but I remember the music I listened to, including Bloc Party, and I remember getting lost in them and finding safety where there was none in my actual life. Plus the songs are really good: “This Modern Love”, “So Here We Are” and “Blue Light” are still the soundtrack to the low budget indie romance in my head. “Pioneers” is exhilarating and “Positive Tension” is still a goofy song but in a lovable way.

I really can’t fathom why there isn’t a bunch of millennial internet blog fawning over them. And I don’t mean in the easy clickbait retrospective way that every band, artist and album will eventually receive from eager writers that need quick ideas for content to produce for their media site of choice (yes that’s a subtweet but mostly at myself); I mean an actual, critical reevaluation. Kele Okereke’s unmistakable voice and emotionally vulnerable writing could be touching, thrilling and cheeky; dependent on what the song asked for. He wasn’t an amazing singer but his voice had a rhythm and groove to it that fit with the drum and bass heavy sound of the music. They were the rock band I would’ve wanted to be in when I was 16 –making the early “emotional club banger” before it became a true concept. But this is just what I feel and–to go back to the state of internet retrospectives– whatever argument I make in favor of you remembering or revisiting this great album is primarily based on my own emotional ties more than some reasoned argument about where it stands against the other albums like it around that time such as Is This It? or Turn On The Bright Lights. Most of the nostalgia writing on the internet is based on this same thing, a bunch of adults remembering the things that made them happy as kids and churning out a quick thousand words on it. I get it –who doesn’t want to believe a personal favorite means something more important to the culture. I think that’s the wrong way to look at it though. In my darkest mental moments, I turned to a 11 year old album most people probably forgot about and found a brief moment of solace. When the things you love stand your own personal test of time can be more important than anything.

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Beyoncé can’t make being a black woman popular. Despite being arguably the world’s biggest musician, she can only hope that people look beyond her race rather than celebrate her blackness and other black women like her. This was made apparent when her video for “Formation” dropped: here was this empowering, unabashedly Southern song with a video that celebrated and reveled in being Black, being a woman and being “country” and it was met with critiques of not being inclusive enough or daring to throw a political statement of pride in one’s race in people’s faces. Beyoncé had committed the sin of reminding anyone who hadn’t been paying attention that she was indeed a Black woman from Texas.

About fifteen minutes into “Lemonade”, Beyoncé’s HBO-helmed visual album, there’s an excerpt from Malcolm X in which he states that, “The most disrespected person in America is the Black woman”. The excerpt comes in as a reminder of the Black woman’s burden of having to live in a world that would rather do without them. They are the neglected wives, the unwanted children and the mothers that have been taken for granted by lovers, brothers, fathers, children, employers and elected officials and Beyonce has used this moment to give their pain voice.

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On its surface, “Lemonade” feels like the deeply personal story of betrayal, heartbreak and anger that has replaced a once-loving relationship. Throughout, you feel like you’re invading her privacy by being an audience member to this show; going from bug-eyed wonder about the juicy details of the tawdry affair Beyoncé keeps teasing about in each song to genuine concern for Jay Z’s safety as you watch his wife gleefully stroll along the sidewalk, twirling a baseball bat or walk slowly while a room is engulfed in flames behind her.

Step back for a second and you begin to realize that this is not just about Beyoncé but it’s about every Black woman. It’s about those mothers, sisters, daughters, grandmothers and aunties; these are all their personal stories that they share amongst themselves out of earshot of the men who’ve either caused the pain or shown no inclination of caring about it. Her lyrics interspersed between the poetry of Warsan Shire with the stark, lingering images of black women in the Louisiana bayou–at once stoic, at other times fiery–make for a haunting, unshakeable Southern Gothic tale of the Black woman’s burden in not just America but the world.

Since the out-of-nowhere release of her 2013 self-titled album, Beyoncé has been re-energized  –not just in methods of creating an event out of the growing irrelevance of album releases, but in subject matter. Where self-titled was an incredibly sexual and liberating expression of love, “Lemonade” is on the opposite spectrum: a claustrophobic, relentless testimony of a woman scorned. However you might have thought this event was going to go, you probably anticipated something more vapid; more congratulatory of the celebrity of Bey. Instead you got a deeply Southern, specifically black, Toni Morrison story with some great songs attached. Maybe it was the sequence in which Beyoncé was drowning underwater or the images of Louisianians interspersed throughout or the moving sequence of mothers of slain children (including the mothers of Trayvon Martin and Mike Brown), but at some point this movie hit you in a way you weren’t prepared for. At some point you had to reckon with the things we’ve done to Black woman and the ways we’ve made their lives harder.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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.

I am growing exhausted pretending Kanye West is a genius. It is tiring having to pretend that the reason I don’t like the things he’s doing is because I don’t “get” it. I genuinely like Yeezus a lot and just that fact alone is weighs heavy on my spirit because as interesting and purposefully off-putting as it is, it is drenched in bullshit. Most of it is a temper tantrum performed over a noisy, Eyes Wide Shut-style robot orgy and yet I stand by it as better than at least two other Ye albums.

But now this nigga is going too far. You wanna sell Mad Max outfits that cost an entire year’s pay to people that are dumb enough to max out credit cards for it then that’s your right, but let’s not pretend you’re revolutionizing anything in fashion. I get that you feel like the fashion world won’t take you serious because you’re a loudmouth nigga that comes from rap and I can also understand how frustrating it is to be pigeonholed and I know that Yeezus was partially a backlash for people constantly telling you to stick to music, but your campaign to get people on your side is contrived.

You wanna start of revolution only to advance your own interests. You say classism is bigger than racism but, ignoring the fact that that’s wrong, your thesis seems entirely based on the fact that you personally are being kicked out of a club you feel like you deserve to be in. For what it’s worth, I don’t even think your Bane takes over Gotham City fashion line is that bad. I know people are getting their jokes off about it right now and I know that it’s not even that original of an aesthetic but it’s decent. If I had some a couple gold bricks, I’d buy one or two pieces up off you, and if you want to make clothes full-time I would support you –mostly because I don’t think you know what you are even doing anymore outside of the fashion world.

That VMA speech you gave was entertaining and, at some points, even truly captivating, but it was also mostly nonsense. You hate the idea behind award shows yet your entire career has been based around promoting yourself and those you deem worthy as the only true winner of every award? You built your brand off of being the vocal supporter of yourself when you felt like he didn’t get the awards you deserved; that is, until you decided to bring your services over to the Beygency™. Now you wanna back away from that and instead argue a pseudo-existential diatribe against awards and the point of these shows. First of all, the point of award shows is to celebrate mediocrity and gather a large number of stars together in order to bring in a large audience of people who are willing to sit through liquor and acne scrub ads just for the sake of firing off tweets. Secondly, this again feels like you thinking about how something affects you and then reacting. Only when you’re at the point of your career where MTV can give you a mostly meaningless honor for everything you’ve done that you can decide “eh, I don’t really get the point”.

Acceptance has never worked for Kanye West. He thrives most when he’s being dismissed or unacknowledged. Being treated like he belongs or like the genius he considers himself in his brain gets boring to him; he wants to be in those areas where he’s hated or ignored. It’s his best quality and also something that is aggravating to witness. It’s clear that he’s been bored with music for a long time: this was obvious on Yeezus when he tried to give himself the challenge of making purposefully alienating music (easily his most Lou Reed move), it’s apparent in how dismissive he’s grown of My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy despite it being his most praised work to date and it’s especially apparent in the manner with which this new album cycle is going.

And that gets us to what’s really bugging me about Kanye lately. I honestly believe SWISH is a false flag operation; something to keep his brand afloat while he goes deeper into realizing his dream of being Steve Jobs. There is no album and honestly it’s better that way because what we’ve heard so far is mostly bullshit. The whole working with Paul McCartney thing was interesting and when “Only One” dropped, I thought: fine, I can get with The Freewheelin’ Kanye West if that’s what he wants. Then he performed “Wolves” in full on SNL with SIA and Vic Mensa who now looks like one of Akasha’s slaves from Queen Of The Damned since he linked with Ye, which was fine I guess but we never got the CDQ and it took forever to get the CDQ of “All Day” and now it’s been out so long that the people who were excited about it don’t even bother pretending to still like it anymore.

This brings us to today where during Kanye’s latest show at New York Fashion Week where, in the midst of the remake of Dawn Of The Dead that seemed to be happening on the runway, Kanye premiered a new song titled “Fade” featuring Ty dolla $ign and Post Malone. That’s right, Lyor Cohen’s latest lab experiment indistinguishable soundcloud rapper, Post Malone is the latest to get the Kanye co-sign. A co-sign which, let’s be honest, doesn’t mean anything anymore –not in a world where Travi$ Scott gets to thrive; a co-sign nonetheless, which is annoying mostly because we were all doing so well at not pretending Post Malone was a real thing and allowing his 15 minutes to expire.

This reeks of a desperation to keep up with whatever you think the kids are into. The only silver lining is that maybe when Kanye sticks his fangs in his neck to drain him of everything he’s got, we’ll never hear from him again like Mr. Hudson. It shouldn’t be too hard since he’s not actually talented –just like, well, Mr. Hudson. More than this egregiousness is just the fact that this song isn’t very good. I get that it was part of a show and maybe that’s not the best context to judge it in but this is really bad Abercrombie & Fitch store music put over a slightly better drum kit. It’s also a boilerplate 2015 Kanye record and it feels like he’s not even trying anymore, and I mean if you don’t wanna make music, you shouldn’t feel like you have to and if you do, you could try a little harder than this.

I genuinely want you to be happy Kanye and if fashion does that great; and if you wanna lure Vic and Travi$ out of their doghouses or caves with Hood By Air clothes in order to get them to make the music you don’t feel like doing yourself, then you know what, go for it. Just do what makes you happy Kanye or really do anything that will spare us from making more industry plant white dudes a thing.

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I am in a room in my parent’s house. For brevity purposes, I’ll call it my room but it is not really mine and it was imperative of my parents to remind me of this at opportune times. This room is my home and my prison; a safe space at one moment and hell in another. It is fall, school has been in session for a few weeks and it is a dry, humid night in Tallahassee, Florida. I am writing in a composition notebook furiously, illegibly and incoherently: it is all earnest, dramatic emotion and self-indulgence in the way only teenagers can be. The world was out to get me and my only weapon were my words and my only support was the loud, fast, aggressively emotional emocore music that I’d been obsessed with.

When you’re a kid all you want is escape. Everyone and everything around you is dismissive towards you and ultimately interested in teaching you how to comply and how to follow orders. I grew up in a town that alternated between too humid and raining, where hanging out in an empty parking lot with friends was a reasonably good Saturday night and where the only thing that will ever matter in this life is what was happening at that very moment as far as we were concerned. I listened to a lot of rap but for all of rap’s brutal honesty, nothing I was exposed to identified with my embarrassing, navel-gazing immature ideas of being heartbroken as a teenager. At least not yet, that would come later, but at first it was all white sensitive males making power pop and punk-lite records about nostalgia, past mistakes and Salinger.

Emo is full-stop white dude tunnel vision and self-aggrandizement. It is almost comically open about feeling every kind of feeling and treating them all like scripture. It is self-involved in a way that is irresistible to a teenager that cannot see outside of themselves and to an adult that wants to remind themselves of those self-involved days every so often. You never forget the records you first obsessed over. The CDs you wear out until they can’t be played anymore, the lyrics you memorized like it was bible study, the way they made you feel every time they came one. I feel no shame in being obsessed with any of it. It all served a purpose. I knew every cringeworthy word on those Taking Back Sunday songs, I had my mental dictionary updated for every new Dashboard Confessional song I heard and I gleefully jumped into The Cure wormhole and wrapped myself in its esoteric grandiose.

A popular theme in a lot of this music (and music in general) is death. The ultimate go-to for every pedestrian poet: death is a game in this context and an excuse to bloviate in hyperbolic terms the tragedy of one’s own existence. Not to say that everyone is doing it for that purpose: depression is rampant in art and death is a valid focus and is capable of being used for genuine introspection. It’s also so tried and true that every artist thinks they can make death sound revolutionary. The ultimate protest to an unjust, ugly world. Sunny Day Real Estate made it sound like such a seductive choice and Nirvana made it feel like a sweet relief.

BALTIMORE, MD - APRIL 28: A man stops and yells at officers as they make their way through the crowd to help a person who needed medical attention near the intersection of West North Avenue and Pennsylvania Avenue as protestors walk for Freddie Gray on West North Avenue and protest around the city in Baltimore, MD on Tuesday April 28, 2015. Gray died from spinal injuries about a week after he was arrested and transported in a police van. (Photo by Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

BALTIMORE, MD – APRIL 28: A man stops and yells at officers as they make their way through the crowd to help a person who needed medical attention near the intersection of West North Avenue and Pennsylvania Avenue as protestors walk for Freddie Gray on West North Avenue and protest around the city in Baltimore, MD on Tuesday April 28, 2015. Gray died from spinal injuries about a week after he was arrested and transported in a police van. (Photo by Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

The romanticization of death is a luxury and a privilege. It’s easy to fetishize and create a fantasy out of death when it’s not a real part of your life. In rap music, death is either expressed through hopelessness about the situation and life that you’ve been cursed with or it’s a tool used to shield the fear you walk with every day. What’s more gangster than convincing people you aren’t scared to die? It’s a lie of course, but you hold that front in the face of an unforgiving world. Death is at your front door and it can consume you or you can use it against others. The bands I obsessed over in that room didn’t know death in that way. Some of them were depressed and some knew what loss was, but by and large, death was foreign. It was foreign to me too: as a black kid in the suburbs, I got the sane luxury of finding the romance in death, using my depression not to search inward, but to make myself the hero of my own tragedy.

The past couple of years have been a hard one for this country and for Black people especially. There is news of black people being murdered by the state, by self-proclaimed vigilantes and by each other at a constant rate. A couple years ago, a gunmen unloaded at an elementary school and we as a country decided this was a price worth paying if it meant no regulation on our guns. A couple months back, 9 people lost their lives inside of a church; it was supposed to be their safe space and under the protection of God. There have been too many deaths to name and many more will probably come.

In the midst of this, one of the things making my skin crawl is the casualness with which we share videos of Black men, women and children being murdered on camera as though it’s the latest viral cat video. The news of murdered Americans is already becoming numbing to us and now we’re trying to make ourselves numb to the actual sight of their death. When this is not happening then the lives and bodies of these once alive, loved human beings are being used as mascots for the agendas of various people for both good and bad reasons. Whether it was intended, their death is now romanticized in service to something bigger. So it goes.

There is no romance in death: there is only the fact of it and the inevitability that we will all be there. As I’ve gotten older my thought process has grown but so has my depression. I look back and reflect on the boy in that room who couldn’t wait to escape from it all with fondness and I roll my eyes at his self-obsession and his fixation on death as being beautiful and poetic. He doesn’t know better; that’s usually how all the best romances happen.

Bosco – Boy

Initially, my impression when committing to listening to this record was that I was in store for more whispery Alt-R&B tumblr music. In some ways that’s what this is but the saving grace is that Bosco has a really good voice that is used in really effective ways most of the time on this record. That’s always been the saving grace for these sorts of records: you can pack with all the neat sound effects and echoes you want, but it always comes down to whether or not the voice of the singer can make a big enough impression on the listener. More than that, my biggest issue with this genre is that it is not nearly interesting enough to get away with being all attitude/image with very little introspection if any at all. The songs are all good and in the end that wins out over any cynicism I have about the style of music; my hope is that as she releases more music, we get more of an idea of the singer is behind the persona.

 

Janine And The Mixtape – XXEP

I didn’t care for the last JATM record: it was fine enough but wasn’t anything that stood out in any real way. I found much more satisfaction in this one. XXEP feels more fully fleshed out and worked on. The sound is reminiscent of 90s-early 00s R&B/pop and her earnestness is endearing in a way that tugs at the emotional teenager inside of you. I don’t know that I can ever get behind a tender, love ballad version of DMX’s “Up In Here” but aside from that jarring moment, this is a small, lovely record that’s easy to get through and embrace.

 

Grace – Memo

This is a really traditional soul record in a lot of ways. Grace has a powerful voice that she belts out to full power and versatility with a production aesthetic that is junkier, busier and, in a lot of ways, outdated for what is popular in the genre now. Yet it works for what it is: Grace is a really good singer bringing a matter-of-fact confidence and attitude about womanhood and sex to old school aesthetics. It’s a “Love & Hip-Hop” soundtrack of a EP and, yes, I mean that in a very good way. There’s something freeing about a blunt singer like Grace and as comforting as the music is here, I’d be interested in hearing if there are other more original sounds that can work in her favor.

 

Rico Love – Turn The Lights On

I did not think this record would be good at all. Maybe that’s unfair to Rico Love–who’s made good music for other good artists–but my expectations were considerably low after being either disappointed or turned off by every single he’s released (ugh, let’s all forget “Bitches Be Like”). Needless to say, I was presently surprised by it. Another case of a strong songwriter making mainstream R&B that isn’t hopelessly shallow or derivative. This record is passionate, lust-filled and introspective in a way I wasn’t prepared for and it triumphs because of it.

 

Miss Ester Dean – Self-Titled

This was my favorite of the R&B records I listened to for this post. It’s twice the “Love & Hip-hop”-esque ruminations on relationships and sex that Grace’s record was. Dean is confrontational, aggressive and self-assured even when she’s lifting the curtain on personal insecurity. It sounds like every rap record being played in clubs and parties at the moment but they suit her. It feels akin to Dream’s latest EP from April in both tone and sound; Dean’s voice has strength and character–you want to go along with the ride she’s taking you on. I even liked the Mustard produced one… mostly. SN: I hope records like this will signal the start of Keyshiacore because music influenced by Keyshia Cole would be a great thing.

 

MNEK – Small Talk

This is my second favorite of the group. This is also sort of a cheat because MNEK is more in line with Dance music and homages to the 90’s Techno-wave then it is with R&B, MNEK sings with all the character and conviction of a kid who grew up listening to Boys II Men records. The songs ooze the musicality of a Luther Vandross but over the synth keyboard and bass of songs that sound like funkier versions “Like The Desert Miss The Rain”. In a lot of ways, it’s most reminiscent of the Whitney Houston record “It’s Not Right, But It’s Ok” or last year’s MJB record. More than anything else, it’s a good record that makes people who don’t like dancing want to dance. It’s either the soundtrack to start the party or the one that ends it, just dependent on how you feel that night.

 

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