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Little Ashes – Find The Lost

I’m huge on percussion, so naturally I’m not too into songs without drums. Sure, I understand the concept and reasons, but no drums is as much of a deal breaker for me as girls with ugly hands and feet. So, as “Find The Lost” reached the 1 minute mark without a trace of percussion I started to get worried. To keep it moving drum-free, your voice and lyrics better be top notch, and thankfully Little Ashes keeps our attention with fantastic songwriting. And when the drums finally drop a minute 20 in, it’s extremely satisfying. And then when they drop AGAIN 2 minutes in, it’s a true cathartic release. The build-up and anticipation are executed flawlessly here, and the pay-off is wonderful.

Setting off on a journey to rediscover yourself now has the perfect soundtrack in “Find The Lost.” We all could use a reminder about who we used to be when we were young and pure at heart. As we grow into more evolved versions of ourselves, we can’t lose touch with that pure essence which doesn’t know how to judge, be jealous, feel lack or dread upcoming events. We gotta find that balance, and that’s the adventure we’ve all embarked on, like it or not. The song is an adventure and journey in and of itself, somehow all in under 3 minutes. It almost feels too short, but I love songs that demand you to play them again, and that’s exactly what Little Ashes accomplishes here. An absolute gem of a song, and has given me a slight bit more appreciation for musical moments sans drums.


Pretty Sister – Thirsty

In honor of the copious amounts of salt we all ingested over this fine Thanksgiving weekend, Pretty Sister is back with a new funk-filled track called “Thirsty.” Complete with a fantastic Parliament-inspired bridge/break-down, “Thirsty” is another tale of sun-soaked sexcapades in the wonderful life of Pretty Sister. There’s truly nobody out there creating modern funk and disco music with as much panache as “Mr. Come To LA And F*ck Me” and it’s been a damn fun ride thus far.

I’ve always felt that there’s either two types of entertainment – stuff that makes you think about the issues of our time, or stuff that makes you forget about the issues of our time. Music is no different, and I’ve always preferred music that makes you forget about the crap. Music that reminds you of the joys of life. Music that reminds you of old friends, treasured experiences, and lost nights. Music that inspires you to create something new, or look forward to the future with glee rather than dread. Music that turns your attention to pleasures, excitement and happiness.

Obviously there’s equal merit to music that makes you feel opposite ways, but right now, I’m all about indulging in better thoughts. We’re all thirsty for something – whether it’s a better life, more sex or gallons of water to wash down the giant dinner – and Pretty Sister once again delivers the goods right to your door.


Hip Hop: The most culturally marginalized genre of our time

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In light of a certain current event in politics, it’s more known now than ever that in America, real racism moves in silence. When we think of the words “rap” or “hip hop,” does it evoke the same divine legacy as genres like rock n’ roll, jazz, or any of the other landmark genres of American culture? Is it safe to say after the anthems that lifted the disenfranchised, the commercial force from “Hypnotize” to “Hotline Bling,” and the social poignancy from Straight Outta Compton to To Pimp A Butterfly, that hip hop has earned its place as the defining music of our generation? For some reason it feels like history hasn’t paid as much respect to Grandmaster Flash as it has to Peter Gabriel. It seems the quiet conclusion in the common mind is that hip hop is a disposable rendition of “real” music, a mere ornament to more legitimate artistry. Is hip hop truly a secondary art form, or is that just a fallacy founded on old-head skepticism and underhanded racism?

Of course, multiple genres can coexist as cultural paradigms in a given era, but hip hop has consistently been the most socially and culturally impactful to this generation. Moreover, it should be clear that contemporary artists like Kendrick Lamar, J. Cole, or Drake will hold more profound cultural substance in their discography than The Lumineers, Skrillex, or Maroon 5 decades from now. This is not to pit different styles of popular music against one another, but rather to recognize the vitality of hip hop, despite its funny name and reputation of being unwholesome. One quick glance at history will reveal that this country’s most celebrated genres of music were built upon counterculture—a glorious overthrowing of the social climate that breathes new life into a complacent population. This was jazz in the Harlem Renaissance, and rock n’ roll during the Vietnam War. Actually, come to think of it, it seems all the greatest American genres of music were spawned from black communities seeking some cathartic respite in desperate times. Rock n’ roll obviously stems from the blues, and it doesn’t take a music historian to understand why those black musicians were feeling blue. Pop music today is all derived from R&B, and in fact, it seems the only reason Justin Bieber is called “pop” while Usher stays “R&B” is a racial distinction. White pop singers are pop, but black singers are R&B. Even today’s electronic music is deeply indebted to Chicago house and Detroit techno. The tragic exploitation and cultural smudging in the history of black music is no recent phenomenon. So when one wonders why someone with the title of “rapper” is more likely to be chuckled at than taken seriously as a musician, let us factor centuries of music racism into our analysis.

Any avid hip hop fan has heard a world-famous rapper actively refuse the title in their lyrics. In his trap ballad “Apple Pie,” Travis Scott exclaims “I am everything except a rapper,” and explains in interviews that “artist” is his preferred label. In his debut album Section.80, Kendrick Lamar viciously delivered the lines “Matter of fact, don’t mistake me for no fucking rapper.” Both these lines were, in fact, rapped. What makes these rappers so abhorrent of their given career title? Perhaps it is because when a young black boy expresses dreams of becoming a rapper, he is often laughed at. It doesn’t feel likely that a young white girl with dreams of being a singer would be met with the same response. In American culture, rappers are known as criminals, degenerates making a quick buck off cheap tracks, indoctrinating the youth with their deplorable agendas. After Kendrick rapped his opus “Alright” from atop a police car on the BET Awards, Geraldo Rivera responded by saying “Hip hop does more damage to African Americans than racism.” While an entire master thesis could be written on the idiocy of this statement, it promptly proves the magnitude of American hatred for hip hop. Indeed, sales are sky high for rap tracks, but commercial performance and actual cultural respect are not the same things. Remember that like our electoral map, the sentiments of the metropolitan coasts are far different from those further inland. As we navigate this treacherous political climate, hip hop can serve as a microcosm of our divided nation. “Panda” may have reached number 1 on the Billboard Hot 100, but it’s improbable that the half of the country that voted for Donald Trump is made up of Desiigner fans. In sum, it is safe to say that “rapper” is a label with baggage.

Those who deny the prevalence of racism in hip hop might argue that it is a genre so littered with corrosive content that it deserves its reputation. Indeed, sex and violence have become lyrical staples in raps over the years, but first we must address the hypocrisy of any rock n’ roll fan in the world that attempts to point fingers at oversexed or misogynistic content. Might I offer some “Brown Sugar,” or “Cherry Pie” as potential refreshments here? Moreover, to address violent content, let us recall that music is artwork. Has Martin Scorsese been publicly scorned for depicting the violence of New York City? NWA’s “Fuck the Police” was an account of the inner city reality of 1980s Los Angeles. Perhaps before blanketing every rapper who mentions a gun in a song as a sociopath aimlessly rampaging upon our public servants, one should consider that they speak of their environment, and ponder how their environment reached such anarchy in the first place. In other words, American society historically reduced black communities to drug-fueled war zones, and when the black communities expressed their perils through music, the music faced the same widespread discrimination that created the environment in the first place.

Geraldo targeting Kendrick Lamar’s “Alright” as an example of harmful music is a tragic irony in itself. Indeed, “Alright” is a modern homage to “Fuck the Police,” with a chorus that ends with “We hate ‘popo,’ wanna kill us dead in the street for sure,” but also ends with “If God got us, then we’re gonna be alright.” We could have guessed that Fox News would walk right into this one, but given Kendrick’s role in revolutionizing the mastery of hip hop as an art form, it’s amusing that he of all people fell between the crosshairs. Let it be understood, however, that not all hip hop is wholesome. Some rappers do inspire more harm than help. But do we denounce all of rock n’ roll because of the music of Nickelback? Not usually, and so the same logic should apply to the blunders of some of today’s less respectable rap and trap artists. “CoCo” by OT Genasis should not discredit the work of Nas. Yet still, the sweeping remarks of condescension toward the art form continue across our culture.

The third and least recognized factor that shackles the image of hip hop is the deadlocked stigma that rapping and composing hip hop is just easier, that it doesn’t contain the artistic subtlety of other musical disciplines; the idea that real musicians learn an instrument and develop their artistry while rappers just rhyme words together along with the beat. While I have no census bureau statistics on this stigma to cite, I have found myself conversationally defending a rapper’s right to be considered a musician too many times now. Here, it becomes somewhat clearer why skilled rappers tend to hate being called one. Take a moment to identify how hesitant our culture is to call rappers musicians, and it all begins to connect. Keith Richards once told Rolling Stone magazine that he thinks hip hop is “for tone-deaf people,” and “all they need is a drum beat and somebody yelling over it and they’re happy.” While this man’s brilliance as a rock n’ roll pioneer is incontrovertible, he speaks of hip hop like the genre’s equivalent of Reverend Shaw Moore from Footloose. Ask a high school jazz band instructor what they think of hip hop. The overwhelming majority of them will give the same elitist eye-roll. This is why To Pimp A Butterfly strikes the ultimate irony, as a rapper has resurrected jazz music through his album’s sound palette singlehandedly, a genre whose players often do not respect hip hop nearly as much as one might hope.

Moreover, Kendrick’s palpably virtuosic rhythms and rhyme schemes gave the genre consummate evidence of artistry in hip hop. The way today’s rap scene intertwines deft production and melody overall proves that its legacy is just beginning. Artists like Kanye West, Chance the Rapper and Frank Ocean are sonic alchemists, weaving their raps into instrumentals that evade the confines of genre altogether. That being said, however, the sanctity of a rap record should have been obvious decades prior. How many years after “Keep Ya Head Up,” after “It Was a Good Day,” after “Juicy,” will it take for the greater sum of this country to admit that hip hop is the enduring vessel of truth in times of stagnation and despair? Does Snoop Dogg need to rip a guitar solo? Does Jay-Z need to sing like Adele to earn his due respect as a true musical icon?

It’s baffling that the ultimate marriage between music and poetry would be so criminally marginalized over time. Further, it’s believed that simple English and blunt subject matter is unworthy of literary praise, as if artistic quality is restricted to complexity and technical skill. Pop art, or the method of repurposing an existing work in a foreign context, is fully recognized in visual art, but when a musician first discovers the role of sampling in hip hop, words like “cheating” and “stealing” begin to fly… because albums like Late Registration practically produce themselves, right? Was Warhol slighted for using pre-existing images, or for not being able to paint like Monet?

And finally, there are those that will optimistically argue that hip hop just isn’t old enough for classic status, and that the time will come. After all, the biopics are only beginning to roll out now. So for any reader who perceives hip hop as any less meaningful, artistic, subtle, or culturally vital as other historic genres, anyone who chooses to ignore the thousands of beats and verses that brought this world a little joy, please understand the ever-so-poignant weight of discrimination. It tends to obstruct one’s happiness. Hopefully in due time, these stubborn skeptics will hear Outkast’s “SpottieOttieDopaliscious,” or Jay Electronica’s “Better in Tune with the Infinite,” or Kanye West’s “Ultralight Beam.” In the 1950s, Elvis Presley took songs like “Hound Dog” from poor black musicians and prospered on their work. In 2015, Taylor Swift was awarded the Grammy for album of the year, instead of Kendrick Lamar for To Pimp A Butterfly. Progress may move at a glacial pace, but if there’s one thing this country has shown, it’s that oppression only makes a community’s culture stronger. I guess they just never thought hip hop would take it this far.


NOTNO – Take It Back

This one’s got the mood that’s a perfect compliment to a cold (well, relative to LA), rainy (ok, slight drizzles) and sluggish Sunday morning. It feels kind of helpless, but hopeful at the same time. I love that NotNo captured that emotion, and I often feel that way on Sunday. It’s either the end of the week or the start of the week depending how you view it. It’s annoying regardless. I don’t like the beginnings or ends of things, i like the middle. I like when things are already in motion. I like being in the rhythm, not searching for the rhythm.

It’s why it’s so hard to re-start something after a lull. So much mental effort goes into starting something. But if you prep the right way, you should be able to get past the start and ease into the middle, where you can spread your wings and feel good about yourself. Things feel comfy when you’re in a rhythm, giving you a much better awareness and understanding of what you’re accomplishing and where to go from there.

“Take it back, to the start…”

I love that lyric because it’s exactly what you need to do to set up the good middles and good endings. Good endings are always set up by the rhythm established in the middle, and also needs to reflect the values and preparation displayed in the beginning. Little hiccups across the board can cause for a bad ending – relationships, movies and sporting events being prime examples. If you understand the rhythm of a football game, it’s always easy to see when a team that’s been winning on the scoreboard but losing in rhythm is about to give the game away.

NotNo is making this Sunday a bit more enjoyable, thanks to their wise words and lush, thoughtful production. Take it back, indeed.


Kill Paris – Junkie (feat. Nevve & Monstre)

Things we need, things we crave are so bittersweet. The drugs of our lives. Love, attention, feeling…how are these different than weed, wine, coke? Similarly addictive, similarly dangerous in the wrong hands. But society dictates the latter are criminal, and the former are romantic.

I’ve dated or fucked 20-30 different people in the last year or so. And generally enjoyed myself but felt almost nothing apart from physical, animal pleasure. Strung out on sordid affairs that gave little to my spiritual well being but kept me afloat in the inane world of dating and the odyssey for ‘love.’

And then a week ago I met a person who crushed me. Over a few days I watched as they moved around me like a searing energy nucleus…cutting into me and compelling my vision, attention, emotion. Is this what love feels like…struck so hard with NEEDING that it elicits an aggressive physical sensation, like getting hit in the gut with a spiked baseball bat?

Beautiful yes, but BRUTAL too. Goddamn. I’ve never tried heroin or crack but this might be what it’s like to live the life of one of those junkies from ‘The Wire’ or something.

I relate to the pain in Nevve’s words on this Kill Paris gem. And I will pursue the bizarre need, the hunger for this person I speak of, like it was fentanyl…oxy…vicodin.

Wish me luck.


Saro – LOOKING

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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
Pivot
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
Inhale
“I hope you find what you’re looking for!”
And before they can answer
Strut away again
End of an era
Or
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,
Exhale
“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


Arona Mane – Teardrops (Feat. Quinn)

I’ve been on a huge retro kick as of late – ‘80s pop to be specific. It started with ABBA, Duran Duran, and Madonna, but the list of artists has rapidly expanded, not only from the era’s bonafide mainstream, but its time of origin as well. From ABRA to Blood Orange and Francis and the Lights to Neon Indian, there are so many musicians in the present taking the ‘80s sound and molding it into a unique blend of past and present.

With that being said, it looks like it’s time to add Arona Mane’s “Teardrops” to my time-hopping playlist. Featuring a groovy beat that feels situated in the ‘70s-to-‘80s musical transition, it bounces along with utter smoothness while Quinn delivers a wonderfully retro vocal performance. It sounds nice on a pair of headphones, but this is the type of song that is best heard blasting from a neon-laden house party or strobe-drenched club.

Until you’re able to experience it in those settings, though, go ahead and peep “Teardrops” below. I’ll just be over here in my time machine, blasting off to another period of retro goodness.


Aaron Fontwell – Crystal Coated

This feels and sounds like a song I would have been obsessed with in high school back in the 90’s. Walking home from school listening to this in my walkman, distraught over a girl I like that didn’t say hi today when she walked past my locker. All angsty, but deep down knowing that it doesn’t matter cause I still get to fire up Tecmo Bowl when I get home. Then i’ll watch The Rap City Top 10 Countdown and get super excited when they sneak in a new Show & AG video right before #1. But then after dinner while doing my homework I get all upset again about that girl, and blast “Crystal Coated” to help indulge my frustration and confusion. Then i’ll go to sleep with this song on loop, not getting done any of my homework but telling myself “i’ll wake up super early tomorrow and finish it up” which actually means snoozing past when I would normally wake up anyway.

But back to the present – it’s really tripping me out how Aaron Fontwell has come up with a song that sounds half-Nirvana and half-The Weeknd. His melodies and the overall vibe give it this urban-grunge vibe that i’ve never really heard before, and I love it. Musically, it’s a very graceful and nimble look into the future while bringing back some of the best elements of 90’s rock music. Truly can’t wait to hear more of something like this.


Billie Eilish – Six Feet Under (Jerry Folk Remix)

With leaves beginning to fall toward the Earth and the brisk air becoming more chilled every day, fall is undoubtedly upon us. For this brief lapse of time, nature’s beauty is insurmountable as cascades of orange, red, and yellow permeate landscapes. Yet, just as quickly as it came, the color will soon seep away, nature’s beauty redefined once more.

If there is a proper audible compliment for that transition, look no further than Jerry Folk’s remix of “Six Feet Under.” A barren atmosphere driven by a methodically bleeping synth akin to Kanye West’s “Say You Will,” it frames Billie Eilish’s vocals as a proverbial light within the darkness of an earlier setting sun. As she croons, “Could roses bloom?”, the thought of the cold providing an alternative elegance is seemingly echoed with hints of affirmation. Yet, as a new arrangement of synthesizers and keys blossoms in the track’s closing moments, it becomes certain; even when a landscape is not outright flourishing, there is still allure to be found.

And thus, Folk’s reimagining of “Six Feet Under” will continue to spin as I watch the seasons give way to one another, the Earth’s cycles continuing to unfold.


DROELOE – Bon Voyage

Bon Voyage indeed, as another smoking hot DROELOE track sends you on quite a journey. They’ve really become masters at creating instrumental music that speaks louder than most songs with vocals. Brimming with well-placed synth sounds, perfectly timed drum drops, and eerie chopped up vocals sprinkled on top, “Bon Voyage” creates the perfect template for this groundswell of instrumental electronic and hiphop productions. It’s packed with smart decisions. The drums are oozing hiphop swag, but the arrangements and instruments are pure electro bliss. It’s wonderful balance that pretty much ensures you’ll play this back to back to back to back to back…

The best part is the conflicting emotions I feel from the song. At moments the vocal sample blends with the track and there’s these feelings of desperation, helplessness, and vulnerability. But at the moments when the drums are driving the song, it makes me want to stomp down the street and sock someone in the face – in the most charming and endearing way possible of course. And I realized that those feelings seem to reflect the way America feels right now. Desperate, helpless, yet ready to take things into their own hands if necessary. It’s a weird-ass time, and I love music that compliments the mood of the moment. Keep providing the soundtrack DROELOE!