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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she belts out to full power and versatility with a production aesthetic that is junkier, busier and, in a lot of ways, outdated for what is popular in the genre now.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.

 

It’s december, which means list after insufferable list claiming to be the authority on what was great about this shitty year. Not one to be holier than thou, I will also be cramming insufferable and opinionated bullshit down your throat–but you know, I won’t pretend like it’s some sort of definitive statement on what this year meant in the pop culture sphere. So here are ten songs that pretty much let you know what 2012 was, enjoy them as you patiently wait for the apocalyptic hellfire soon to swallow this earth… or something:


1. Frank Ocean – “Pyramids”

While many a journalist and music aficionado has waxed poetic about Channel Orange, I found it pretty inconsistent and an album that lost its luster pretty quick; but it was still a great record nonetheless, and “Pyramids” is pretty much the best song released this year.  A truly great pop song–it was brooding R&B with an electronic sheen, and it was 10 minutes of glorious funk and style.

2. Juicy J – “Bandz A Make Her Dance”

Sure, go ahead and pretend you weren’t fixated on this song. Yeah yeah, I know… you only listen to that real hip-hop and can’t be bothered with the garishness and cartoonish ignorance on display. Yawn, it gets old–you say no to ratchet club musc, Iz Daramola can’t!

3. Japandroids – “Fire’s Highway”

There are probably a lot of people turned off by the Japandroid’s “bro-ness”. Those guys suck. There’s something awesome about a couple dudes who play like they got bored one day and started a band, even if it is just to write songs about partying and drinking. After seeing these guys at Pitchfork over the summer, I became an even bigger fan.

4. Kendrick Lamar- “Bitch Don’t Kill my vibe”

It was a pretty tough call trying to pick which song from K.Dot’s fantastic debut best deserved a spot on this list. I had to go with the second track ultimately because, as 15 year old narcissistic girls would put it, this song is totally my life.

5. Dirty Projectors- “Dance For You”

I don’t know why I love this so much–I just, man I don’t know.

6. Trinidad Jame$- “All Gold Everything”

POP A MOLLY I’M SWEATIN, WHOOO! POP A MOLLY I’M SWEATIN, WHOOO!  

7. Future- Turn On The Lights

To all the hip-hop nerds out there, for what it’s worth, I tried really hard not to like this one.

8. 2 Chainz ft. Kanye West- “Birthday Song”

Come on bruh, how could I not include this one.

9. G.O.O.D. Music- “Mercy”

Despite luxury rap overkill at this point, you can’t deny that this was the jam of the summer (well at least until Bandz started to catch on). The illuminati and Givenchy have been good to the G.O.O.D. crew.

10. Carly Rae Jepson- “Call Me Maybe”

Real headz know the deal. The rest of you can fall back son.

 

Bonus:

11. Childish Gambino- “Shoulda Known”

I’m glad bino is doing some more actual rapping this time around, but I still couldn’t resist the catchiness of this little pop-baiting jam.

12. Nicki Minaj/ 2 Chainz – “Beez In The Trap”

Gotta hand it to Nicki, her 15 minutes is lasting a lot longer than I thought it would.

13. Allo’ Darlin – “Tallulah”

See number 5

14. Domo Genesis- “The Daily News”/ A$AP Mob – “Thuggin’ Noise/Curren$y- “Jet Life”

The “cool kid” rap crowd had as big a year as any other bullshit niche genre. Domo’s EP with The Alchemist was one of the best releases of the year by an OF member not named Frank. The A$AP mob album may have been a little “meh” overall, but it was still lots of fun. Curren$y, well Curren$y does what he always does, put out constant dope shit.

15. Fiona Apple- “Valentine”

This is purely just to impress the art crowd–or whatever. I don’t care what you think, you know.

It’s been raining all weekend. Which means, I’ve been listening to R&B all weekend. From the old to the new, I’ve been blasting the best harmonies, rhythms and just feel-good vibes into my ears through this dreary chill-fest happening everyday for the past 3 days. For the sake of this excerpt, I’ll stick to just talking about the new music:

Solange “Losing You” 

Everyone told me this was good, so naturally I went in highly skeptical—arms crossed and all. I’m currently on my 15th listen (seriously, this song is so good). I’ve always liked Solange for the simple fact that she never tried to be her sister; she’s always tried to have her own style. Well damn it if her style isn’t mine as well, the song is just fun, infectious and makes you want to dance around while the video, despite treading the boundaries of some manic pixie dream girl-level quirk, is just so addictive to watch over and over again. This is easily my song of the moment.

Rihanna & Beyonce

I think I gained a whole new appreciation for these two over the weekend; they’ve easily made some of the best music over the years that they’ve been on top. Rihanna making the marriage between electronic/dance music and pop look better than anyone else has been able to and Queen B does what she does best: make music that lasts lifetimes—I mean between songs like “countdown”, “dance for you”, “naughty girl”, “single ladies” and “irreplaceable”, she can go from singlehandedly saving your relationship to ending it in seconds. (That’s a skill.)

Miguel “Kaleidoscope Dream”

Miguel’s sophomore album, Kaleidoscope Dream, debuted this past week and—as a fan of true R&B music—I have to hand it to the guy, he made a great record. It’s definitely one that will be in rotation for a while with me. While I found his first release to be decent, I only enjoyed it in a guilty pleasure sense. I’m happy to say that this time around I can admit to liking the album with no shame, it’s that enjoyable.

Wiz Khalifa ft. The Weeknd “Remember You”

Ok technically, this is Wiz’s song but we all know who the star was in this case. R&B crooner/drug enthusiast Abel Tesfaye—better known as the Weeknd—makes this song as infectious as it is and reminds us just how good he can be. We haven’t heard to much from the young artist since he wrapped up the trilogy earlier this year so this was a nice little present for the fans. Not to say Wiz doesn’t do his part to help the song (he does), but I mean come on man, the Weeknd steals this one.

Pyramids might be the best song I’ve heard in a long time, not to speak of this year. It’s pop and R&B’s finest and most enthralling: 9 minutes of electro bounce goodness, subversive trance-style rhythm and black philosophy all rolled into one. It’s Frank’s “stairway to heaven” “bohemian rhapsody” or “only in dreams.”
But I’m sure you out there reading this know how good it sounds, so instead let’s talk about what this song is–which in a nutshell is a history of the sexual degradation and roles played in black history.

It’s kind of weird seeing girls tweet that they’re “working at the pyramid tonight” or some variation. Do they not realize what that implies or do they know but just think it sounds cool? If it’s the latter than I guess that’s fine; I mean I tweet gangsta rap lyrics all day long but it doesn’t mean I actually live that life. If it’s the former than it’s a little disheartening; a song with as good as lyrics as these shouldn’t be ignored.

Set the cheetahs on the loose
There’s a thief out on the move Underneath our legion’s view
They have taken Cleopatra, Cleopatra

Run run run come back for my glory
Bring her back to me
Run run run the crown of our pharaoh
The throne of our queen is empty

Now as anyone who’s taken any sort of history class (or at the very least aware of RapGenius) can tell you, the Cleopatra being referred to here is the actual queen of the nile herself who ruled over Egypt and was known for her incredible beauty. (among other things we’ll get to shortly).

And we’ll run to the future
Shining like diamonds in a rocky world
A rocky, rocky world
Our skin like bronze and our hair like cashmere
As we march to the rhythm On the palace floor
Chandeliers inside the pyramid
Tremble from the force
Cymbals crash inside the pyramid
Voices fill up the halls

Set the cheetahs on the loose There’s a thief out on the move

Underneath our legion’s view

They have taken Cleopatra, Cleopatra

The basic idea is that the quote “king of the throne” is looking for his queen who’s gone missing. Him and his queen were supposed to lead Africa to the future; make it stronger and uplift the people. Now if you know the history of Cleopatra then you know that she was a woman who loved and seeked power the only way she knew how: through her beauty and body. It’s known that she had used her sexuality in order to form alliances with greek kings to guarantee that her empire would be the strongest. Frank seems to have used this as a launching point on the history of prostitution as well as a look at what it feels like to love someone precious but not be able to have them.

The jewel of Africa
What good is a jewel that ain’t still precious
How could you run off on me?
How could you run off on us?
You feel like God inside that gold
I found you laying down with Samson And his full head of hair
Found my black queen Cleopatra
Bad dreams Cleopatra

Remove her
Send the cheetahs to the tomb
Our war is over, our queen has met her doom
No more she lives, no more serpent in her room
No more, it has killed Cleopatra, Cleopatra

The Samson reference is an interesting one. Samson is one of the judges of the ancient Israelites said to have been granted supernatural strength by God in order to battle his enemies. Nothing is worse for your ego than knowing your Queen is in bed with a man like that, not even to speak on the racial implications of it. Cleopatra eventually fell to her death, by suicide, upon her lover Mark Antony’s loss in the Battle of Actium. The snake imagery isn’t lost either, as both a reference to the snake bite Cleopatra allegedly used to kill herself as well as a euphemism for temptation and lust. In the end she met her fall through her need for power and riches.

Big sun coming strong through the motel blinds
Wake up to your girl for now let’s call her Cleopatra,
Cleopatra I watch you fix your hair
Then put your panties on in the mirror, Cleopatra
Then your lipstick, Cleopatra
Then your six inch heels
Catch her
She’s headed to the pyramid

She’s working at the pyramid tonight
Working at the pyramid
Working at the pyramid tonight
Working at the pyramid
Working at the pyramid tonight
Working at the pyramid
Working at the pyramid tonight
Working at the pyramid
Working at the pyramid tonight
Working at the pyramid
Working at the pyramid tonight

Pimping in my convos
Bubbles in my champagne
Let it be some jazz playing
Top floor motel suite, twisting my cigars
Floor model TV with the VCR
Got rubies in my damn chain
Whip ain’t got no gas tank
But it still got woodgrain
Got your girl working for me
Hit the strip and my bills paid
That keep my bills paid
Hit the strip and my bills paid
Keep a nigga bills paid

From here we move to present day. The life of your typical pimp benefiting off selling lust and using a woman’s body to help him profit and establish his “kingdom” so to speak. Going from once being kings and queens to instead the seedy underbelly using the same tactics that they’ve always thought would get them ahead. It’s no grand observation to point out the fact that we, as black people, are part of a hypersexualized culture. Lust has always been found in us throughout all of history even before slavery and the objectification of our women by our men. Here in this song, Frank draws the parallels between ancient Egypt and today; showing a pattern between our thought processes between then and today.

She’s working at the pyramid tonight
Working at the pyramid
Working at the pyramid tonight
Working at the pyramid
Working at the pyramid tonight
Working at the pyramid
Working at the pyramid tonight
Working at the pyramid

You showed up after work
I’m bathing your body
Touch you in places only I know
You’re wet and you’re warm just like our bathwater
Can we make love before you go
The way you say my name makes me feel like I’m that nigga
But I’m still unemployed
You say it’s big but you take it
Ride cowgirl
But your love ain’t free no more, baby
But your love ain’t free no more

And then we get to the end of the song where everything comes full circle. Just as the king who loved Cleopatra and felt betrayed by her personal power grabbing, we are presented with someone in love with a hooker. A woman who, despite this man’s strong feelings, treats him no different than another client; doing things to make him feel like a man but still expecting compensation for it.

It’s a testament to how good and multilayered this song is, that you can gather so many insightful thoughts from it. Like most of Channel Orange, it’s yet another song about unrequited love but also a song about history and sexuality– not to mention a fun, danceable track. It’s not often a song you can party to is so full of education.

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