ATO – 94 Dreaming (prod. EDEN)

94 Dreaming simultaneously “picks up the past and recalls it as heaven” while fantasizing about “the bigger picture.” ATO, the young rapper from Leeds, captures the friction of what it means to be in a period in between; what it means to be young; a twenty something. ATO would perhaps reject this description. Not the geographical placement but the classification of adolescence. “Young” is subjective. To someone nearing a century of life, I can’t imagine how young twenty something must sound. “Young people have so much to learn about life” I’ve heard more than a few times. They’re right. There’s an endless well of knowledge to be acquired during our time. But the well isn’t finite and there isn’t a specific timeline

ATO’s got ample content to show his growth so far.


I’ve got to stop being selfish, helping other left me helpless…That’s young me…with questions that you can’t answer…I chose the darkest path
To emancipate my own feelings
Clouding the vision
Distorting the meaning”

Who’s to say his experiences aren’t as meaningful as those of an older generation? Being young doesn’t mean the lessons haven’t started rolling in.

In this time of our lives, the future looks simultaneously open and tied to a past that seems far behind. We’re tiptoeing on a tight rope, doing our best to keep looking up and out. Doing our best to not be devoured the size of our ambitions and those who say we can’t do it all. We’re perhaps in the middle, where hard work has yet to bear fruit and there’s not enough distance between us and old habits to feel we’re free from how we used to be. How we used to be pops us occasionally and we work to change, to make something of ourselves, but reaping the benefit of that work is a far away reward. So, dreaming is where we find ourselves most of the time. Dreaming is both what keeps us grounded and keeps us feeling high, keeps us feeling like we could reach the sky.


I’ll sleep on it
Dream bigger
New frame of mind
The bigger picture
Fingers travel scriptures
‘Till we capsize
I’ma keep running
We sinning
Pushed back to the beginning
The past speaking to me like a family 20 minute visit”

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NoMBe – Wait

Let’s make it last forever ‘cause the night’s still young.”

There’s an image here. It’s the one of carefree young people skinny-dipping. They’re riding around in a convertible now, their hair blowing in the wind, next they’re jumping boldly over the caution tape. Like in that movie.

This kind of euphoric reverie is what NoMBe conjures expertly. Since Change of Hearts and California Girls (sans remix) he’s been able to momentarily snatch me up from reality and carry me into a steady hip-swaying daze. Wait’s waves build subtly and crash sleepily under its soothing soundscape.

As long as we’re together, this moment lasts forever”

Remember that scene where Emma Watson stands up in the back of a pick-up truck while her friends drive, with her arms spread open much like Jesus Christ? She doesn’t have a care in the world and is willing to risk being decapitated by the tunnel’s unenthused cement for that one free, ecstatic moment. Of course, she saves her head by the purest power known to man: youthful radiance.

Remember that time that young man was decapitated subway surfing last month?

Often, art offers illusion. It doesn’t show the safety cables attached to Watson and it doesn’t sing about the consequences that come with letting yourself get swept up in fantasy. I’m wary of a scene or a song that tells me I’ll live forever. It’s a shiny premise that makes some young people desperate to prove their youth matches that of the electric night – the one that urges a dive into the glittery mystique darkness provides.

The deception in this paradigm is that we are like the night. But unlike us, the night will always be reborn once it dies at sunrise.

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Little Simz ft. Syd – Shotgun


With the release of Stillness in Wonderland, British rapper Little Simz can now boast two records, four mix tapes, performances alongside the likes of Estelle and Tinie Tempah and a successful acting career, with recurring roles in two British TV series. She’s only twenty-two. It’s clear she’s been hard at work. Artists like Little Simz are testaments to the pay off of prolific creation. Her sophomore album is her most complex body of work, showcasing the intricacies of the young entertainment personage.
“I’m a complex human being, there’s more than one side to me”
Stillness in Wonderland is less unafraid in experimenting than A Curious Tale of Trials + Persons. It’s almost as though she’s smoothed out some of the aggression let out on her debut then sprinkled on some jazzy melodies and ethereal vocals to allow us to indulge in her artistry rather than digest her command upon intake.
Choosing a track to feature from this album was not easy. I decided to go with Shotgun, though. The badass ballad of sorts, featuring Syd, also known as Syd Tha Kyd of The Internet and Odd Future, because there’s few things more satisfying than talented women teaming up to create excellent work, in my opinion. These women are making names for themselves in the male dominated hip hop game of today and the result is a track that’s somehow both light and heavy. Definitely smooth enough to stick your straw into and sip at your own pace. Yum.

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Rationale – Prodigal Son


Perpetual daughter
Flew from shadows cast upon her

The ghost of her father rests his hand on her shoulders,
Rolling them back, she stands a bit taller-
Conquering her heavy backpack, her aching feet.
The ghost of her mother pushes her heart as she smiles back at other.
Mother smiles at her each night she lays in bed, praying,
And wakes in the morning still with hope.
The ghost of her sister sits across the table as she type, types away, attending murmurs of inspiration.
She flew from shadows
To face their makers eternally
Ran a million miles
Made mistakes
And castles with few bricks
Those she knows look back at her by day
I’m nothing like you
I’m just like you
I’m just like me
Just like human

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In the end
Turn your back to them
Begin to walk away
Strut, actually. Strut away.
Then remember,
The emblematic phrase of triumphant bitterness
It’d feel wrong not to say it
And move two steps back toward them
Maintain eye contact (this is key)
Raise your pointer finger and take an assertive stance
Hold your ground
“I hope you find what you’re looking for!”
And before they can answer
Strut away again
End of an era
Arms crossed, adjust yourself slightly, looking outward momentarily,
Turn your head back toward them and find their face blurred by tears accumulating in your eyes, blink once to clarify and as the droplet slides down,
“I hope you find what you’re looking for.”
The phrase can take many shapes
In any case
A crazy thing occurs where love becomes history
A break previously unfathomable snaps in an interminable instant
Resolution and melancholia merge in an impossible way
Disbelief pervades
But it happens
And the world remains the same
In the end

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SOHN – Signal


Like an unmoving body of water, Signal begins. Calm and calculated, first, the waves move slowly. Then, like an animal’s head piercing calm waters, SOHN’s voice comes in. Still, there’s barely any unsettling. The stormy weather SOHN sings of takes place inside of him. The song mimics that apparent composure some of us spend our lives perfecting.

Signal, wave across the water for me.”

That’s all he’s asking.

There are moments in my life I’ve convinced myself I’m not waiting in the dark. A signal from another was all I longed for. But really, it wasn’t. I thought it was just a sign but what I wanted was for another to carry me. Expectations are usually larger than what we convince ourselves we need.

Give me shelter, please.

Let me be the man I wanted to be.”

As though some sign from another is what would allow me to fully be. As though I needed your permission. As though you’d ever give it to me. The mere thought that I’d need you to do anything, means the “me” is gone. It means there’s no agency.

Signal’s soundscape manifests that acute loneliness that encapsulates when you’re waiting on someone else. When you’re waiting on someone who you might even know will let you down. But still, you wait. Because…

We each have our reasons.

Placing trust in another so often fails us. So why do we try again and again to believe? This time it’ll be different. This time it’ll be how it’s meant to be. And the song matches this hope as it swells periodically.

The thing is, it’ll never be how I want it unless I make it so. Unless I believe in myself to create the actions I want to see through.

In the track’s last moments, the music builds, revealing a deep frustration with this current state of being: one of wanting and not receiving. It’s SOHN’s desperation to become what he wants to be. The wave calls him out of his waiting.

Oh I’ve been travelling, waiting for a moment of peace.” 

Don’t wait, just be the peace.


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O.J. Hodding – Kicking Back (Ft. Masta Marx)

Screen Shot 2016-08-15 at 7.11.44 PM

When I first heard O.J. Hodding’s subtly accented flow clearly over a beat as smooth as a skater’s cruise down some stretch of concrete, it was like a gulp of cold water in this heat. Kicking Back quenches a thirst for clean lyricism I didn’t even realize I had.

There are a lot of new hardcore hip-hop artists coming up right now. With Desiigner, Lil Yachty and Lil Uzi Vert releasing tracks and mixtapes that focus more on hard-hitting production than lyricism, the rhythm and flow of the Tribe kind now feels extra old school with the genre filling to the brim with gangsta rap.  I don’t think this is necessarily a bad thing. The sophistication and specificity of good production is at its most satisfying right now, in my opinion. But no one can claim they understand any of the lyrics to Timmy Turner.

Especially with Phife’s untimely death earlier this year, Hodding’s track comes at a time when it’s important to remember those legends of the 90s that paved the way for today’s rap royalty.

The simplicity in the production of Kicking Back, the first track in Hodding’s new EP Mellow, is misleading, though. That kind of subtle layering to create a smooth yet wavy flow with lyrics driving it forward as opposed to landing comfortably in an overpowering bass is difficult in its own right. This kind of subtlety is lacking in today’s bursting hip-hop bangers whose weight barely makes sense past its club and party reign. Mellow is hip hop you can enjoy in your apartment or on the subway without feeling the anxiety of not being with your crew doing cool things out on the town.

Not that Mellow’s message calls for much intellectual analysis but there’s no denying a calculated effort to communicate something clearly in each of its full-bodied tracks, even if it’s just to chill out. That’s okay too.

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Fossa Beats & Dugong Jr – Powers


I often have a dream. I’m trying to break into a run but I can’t. My feet are glued to the shoes to the ground under me. I’m in a wide leg stance, arms bent at ninety degrees. You’ve seen those models in those fitness magazines. Statuesque

I’ll wrap my forearms around my thighs, desperately trying to pull them up.I’m heaving harder than I ever have before. But nothing. I’m not strong. Usually, something bad is after me and I can’t run away.You ever heard of those moms that can lift cars on an adrenaline rush? Even that amount of strength couldn’t pull me up. I’m stuck. It’s devastating.

In my other dream I can’t see. I can’t open my eyes more than a blurry sliver. However much I try. I’m stuck forever in that limited view of the world.

In my other dream my mom dies.

In my other dream I relive the worst parts of that time, all the shit, over and over again.

Sometimes it’s hard to know what’s more real: the feelings in those dreams or the horizon in front of me.

You know that moment looking out at the skyline?

This beat is like those streaks of unbelievable pinks and oranges and oh my god I didn’t even know the sky could make that color. Maybe I’m on a rooftop. Or a beach. And the bridge in the song is the moment I decide I’m invincible. It drops and I realize, actually, I’ve only discovered I’ve been invincible all along. Ooh-wee it’s all for me, isn’t it? This life. All it has to offer. It’s totally within my reach. That’s power. Oh, if I just raised my arm I could touch it all. Then lift off. Fly above all those silly things I worried about before. The sky and the light are so much bigger than all these groundlings. Look at the rest of them crying, complaining. Look down for a second.


This song, a release from Mad Decent’s sub label, Good Enuff, is a perfect balance between anticipation and release. It’s like the first time the superhero lifts off in an action movie.

But what about all that shit – real or unreal, the fears that linger and face me in my dreams where I’m not strong enough? Some say there’s strength in sitting in what’s rough. I disagree. Like the song, I choose to live in the world of up and up and up. Leave the fears for when I’m sleeping. Because there’s more power in overcoming what’s trying to keep you stuck than stewing in the thing you feel is sinking you. In real life, I can fly.

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Terror Jr. – Say So

It’s quick. Quickly,
Like pink bubbles popping, like sugar, sugar. Like palm trees, lightning skyrocketing. Rocket tinkering. Small sways this way. And that.
Up, up and up. Another cup. Up, closing my eyes and giving.
Myself to me to this and… You talk a lot.
You talk a lot about us in a bad way. Labeled, unstable. I don’t need us lately.
Like looking up like the night sky tinkering.
Breathe, breathe in deeply. In.
Like if I breathe more, more deeply, I can reach me. Now, I go up and up and see. Like this rhythm pedaling.
You choked me.
Now, it’s lit.
Like the kids say.
Now, I want me. Like this song.
Like when I sway.
With a fire underneath.
Nodding. Rocking. Chest bouncing. Nod with me. Breathe,
But bounce with me.
Butt bounce with me, everybody.
Think differently
No time
Now only listening to what I say, so.
Remember what you used to say, though?
It’s quick.


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Palmistry – Club Aso


When I float in the water, there’s a sense that I am both in control and helpless to the current running under me. That I’m part of something bigger I can completely give in to, but if I wanted to, I could still move. Move to cause a ripple and change myself in the blue vastness. And isn’t that freedom? The acceptance of something bigger with the simultaneous acknowledgement of some agency.

When I can float in a song, there’s a sense it’s taking me somewhere gently and not pushing me aggressively towards a climax I’m supposed to lose myself in. Club Aso, Palmistry’s first single off his debut album, PAGAN, drifts me slowly into that freedom meditatively. Staying animated, though, the track makes it feel appropriate to close your eyes and forget where you are while continuously giving you just enough to keep you happily moving.

Palmistry’s PAGAN takes dancehall and does away with the extra pomp superstars Rihanna and Sean Paul generously cake on top for audiences to lick off while moving to the essential rhythm the genre has to offer. Club Aso lets you indulge all you want in that delicious essence of Caribbean music without getting swept up by all that extra stuff.

I love it, control me, the way it holds me…”

Fall back into nostalgia or allow your mind to create images to match the flow that itself almost seems like a hallucination. It’s a buoyant and relaxed kind of sensory intake rather than that whitewater rafting rush pop crossover tracks aim at generating. You’re safe in that warm foundation that is Palmistry’s subtle current of motion pushing you forward like waves.


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