A couple weeks ago I went down to Austin to experience my first SXSW Music Festival. There was a lot of bullshit going down but it was matched by all the unexpected experiences I had while down there. I'm being vague because my full day-by-day log of the festival lives over at Frank 151 (Read it!). Before you get into the recap, check some of the photos I snapped at the many showcases I went to.
1. Kelela- Cut 4 Me: What makes Cut 4 Me special is its production—it isn’t set up to be sang over yet it’s being contrasted with lyrics about failed relationships. The choppy sounds that give Bmore Club and D.C. go-go are more suited for warehouse dance parties but Kelela maneuvers through them with ease.
2. Kanye West- Yeezus: Kanye didn’t come to the table with a completely unheard-of sound, but for nerve and and being abrupt, he does get some points. Weird video game synths, industrial beats and an elevated level of fire and passion are the keys to this record. And even without his routine soulful samples, he’s still telling stories.
3. B L A C K I E- ONLY 4 THE REAL:Houston’s B L A C K I E is a fixture in the underground punk-rap scene with a small internet following. So naturally, his album, ONLY 4 THE REAL, was easily overlooked. But his pro-feminist practices in the pit, motivational sermons and healthy aggression are some of the year’s real gems.
4. Various Artists- Saint Heron:The first record from Solange Knowles’ label, Saint Records, Saint Heron is a masterful display of what modern-day R&B is and where it can go. The compilation features eleven artists including Jhene Aiko, Kelela, Cassie and Solange, who closes out. Atmospheric, foggy production topped with echoey vocals at its finest.
5. Migos- YRN:Champions of trap right now. Access to Zaytoven on-demand. Flows that haven’t been tapped into, and that would otherwise be annoying as fuck, slice through the insane production.
6. Drake- Nothing Was The Same:Albeit a douchey coming-of-age soundtrack for a bitter dude who’s always getting fronted on, Nothing Was The Same is Drake at his most polished. There’s more umph behind the rhymes, his confidence is at its height and his producer Noah “40” Shebib has never been so in sync with him.
7. Abdu Ali- Push + Slay:Some shit most of our music brains haven’t experienced yet. Categorizing it—damn near impossible. Rapping, creepy nasal chanting, harmonizing and screaming cut through the bass heavy beats. The theme of triumph vs desperation, mixed with extreme passion drive this where it needs to be.
8. Shy Glizzy- Law 2:Genuine street tales with the best voice in the rap game since Lil’ Boosie. Shy Glizzy, who seemed lost at times in earlier work, uses his nasal tone as an instrument over the slapping, trap-friendly beats. A collection of hard luck stories help you feel his desperation to make it.
9. The Weeknd- Kiss Land:Hazy, drugged out sound and echoey vocals crafted a modern classic with The Weeknd’s House of Balloons. On Kiss Land, his sound’s mystery has transitioned to a combination of gloomy and climactic. The crying victim and “too complicated for love” thing is getting old but the sound is still flawless.
10. Asaad- #COLDBLUE:Though much darker and cutting than usual, Saudi hasn’t spit like this in two years. It feels like a big audition; he’s showcasing his full repertoire of auto tuned crooning, flowing over soulful beats, diss tracks, endless bars. “Holy Matri” is one of the year’s best tracks. Feels like Asaad is onto something big.
11. Da Mafia 6ix- 6ix Commandments:It’s been more than a decade since this many members of Three 6 Mafia have been together but they show no signs of rust on their comeback tape, going by Da Mafia 6ix. Koopsta is creepy as fuck. DJ Paul has the best intros ever. Gangsta Boo and Lord infamous are still spitting like crazy. Just like old times. Even Juicy J put giving out twerking scholarships on pause to come hold it down on the outro.
12. Prodigy & The Alchemist- Albert Einstein:In 1999, The Alchemist produced two songs for Mobb Deep’s Murda Muzik. Since Mobb’s gotten on shaky grounds, duo-member Prodigy & The Alchemist picked back up on collaboration with this year’s Albert Einstein. Alchemist’s syrupy slow beats topped with sci-fi and horror-movie sound effects has Prodigy sounding more menacing and effective than ever.
13. Chief Keef- Almighty SO:Keef is doing a lot with his voice; most of this tape isn’t strict rap. In place of spitting, a lot of times, he’s flowing and harmonizing. Yeah, he’s mumbling his way through raps, but he’s engaging. The autotune packed emotion is one of the key things to take away from the tape.
14. Chance The Rapper- Acid Rap:One of rare occurrences when someone is trying to come off as eclectic and it works. Acid Rap is rap, jazz, blues and spoken word all at once. There’s nothing new being offered here. It’s soulful rap and he sounds like so many distinguishable rappers wrapped in one...but it works out.
15. Matic 808- Yeezus: The Baltimore Club Edition:The first Baltimore club record I’ve been excited about since middle school. Matic made this shit fun again. The hilarious loops of Kanye’s most memorable lines like “Hurry up with my damn croissant!”, signature “ay”’s in the background, and bumping base make a more danceable version of Yeezus
16.M.I.A- Matangi:Nothing out of the ordinary for M.I.A, which is still better than the vast majority of shit. She continues to do what makes musical artists dangerous: creating meaningful, politically charged content and placing atop the best danceable production that’s out.
17.Marian Mereba- Room For Living Remixes:An up-and-coming singer out of Atlanta, Marian Mereba takes the atmospheric trend in R&B and layers her strong and calming vocals on top, in contrast to the airy, echoed voices that most of the genre's songstresses display right now. Each track is remixed by guest DJ's so, like Kelela, they double as dance songs. Her voice is amazing.
18. The Underachievers- Indigoism: Rap that rappers like. Issa Gold and AK reach back to their Brooklyn roots with the heavily-90’s influenced style in their raps. They also take it back to psychedelic rap, filled with hallucinogens, Egyptology and do-the-knowledge themes. If none of that gets you, the stamina they display by tightly packing words in each bar will.
19. Earl Sweatshirt- Doris: Somehow this album seems like it’ll hit way harder in the next decade. It’s free of hits and the run-on sentence flows are tailor-made for stoner kids eating chips on the couch playing Xbox. Earl’s unique and unconventional delivery of jam-packed bars make this album special.
20. Death Grips- Government Plates:This was a fairly disappointing record when you pit it against earlier Death Grips work but their give-no-fucks attitude and refusal to do the expected works here in patches. The first track bangs then there’s a scattered amount of gems within the album, which is 75% instrumental. Still, those instrumentals are insane.
21. Danny Brown- Old:Arguably the year’s heaviest rap album. It paints a vivid story of Danny Brown’s troubled past—mostly due to drugs (what he’s seen others do and what he’s done to himself)—and the chilling realization that he’s still an addict. Solid production that loses value because of his intentional compartmentalizing of his two extremes.
22. Tyler The Creator- Wolf:This album is a helluva lot more cohesive than Goblin, but its impact is minimal in comparison. A good deal of songs, especially in the album’s middle, start to sound the same and the Neptune’s influence is a bright red blinking light. Tyler’s vulnerability in “Answer”, his brashness is “Jamba” and his willingness to take the backseat in “Treehome95” are highlights.
23.Cabalerro- Laisse-Nous Faire Vol. 1: Cabalerro is one of French rap’s most polished newcomers. His production is a mixture of 90’s boom-bap and fresh samples from European classical music. He proves that he can flow anything thrown at him here. If you don't speak French, the sound and his style will still keep you engaged.
24. A$AP Rocky- Long.Live.A$AP:Some of the year’s best production, without question. But as the year went on, the absence of lyrical creativity gradually drop this album’s stock. “Suddenly” and “LVL”, where he’s talking about semi-personal stuff, shine the brightest.
25. The Internet- Feel Good:Typical musical from The Internet which, if nothing else, is the best background music in the world. Syd’s content is getting stale but the smooth production and harmonies are A1.
Bonus List: 10 Albums I Really Wanted to Like But Didn’t, Outside Of A Few Songs:
1. Blood Orange- Cupid Deluxe
2. Pusha T- My Name Is My Name
3. SZA- S
4. OG Dutch Master-Blue Light District
5. Young Thug- 1017 Thug
6. Gunplay- Acquitted
7. Sky Ferreira- Night Time, My Time
8. A$AP Ferg- Trap Lord
9. Kid Cudi- Indicud
10. Yo Gotti- I Am
Overall, the week was tight. Got a new project from Three 6 Mafia (I hate calling them Mafia 6ix), Death Grips dropped an album, I'm still stuck on B L A C K I E's record and Solange came through with an R&B compilation. Shoutout to Smash Records in D.C.! They'll be selling copies of True Laurels Vol. 1 (the first issue of my zine!) and I came out with an ill Jimi Hendrix record (Band of Gypsys) and an album by a group called The Drifters. Also while in there, I came across this tight zine called Vinyl Vagabonds out of D.C. So here are my favorite music-related things from the week:
Wednesday evening every major music outlet tweeted that Death Grips had just released an album without any prior promotion—Government Plates. I'm actually more into how the record was released than I am the music. The idea was a good contrast to the usual hashtag overload simultaneous countdown we get for most people's music and videos but with Death Grips is seems to be a calculated "We don't care" thing when it's obvious that their stunts are not by chance. On the whole, with a few listens in, this record is Death Grips moving into a more abstract, instrumental phase; A good deal of the album is repeated lines over crazy production or a lot of the time, there are no vocals. The intro, "You might think he loves you for your money but I know what he really loves you for it's your brand new leopard skin pillbox hat" is killer. The project's production is great and, intentions aside, the method of release was unexpected and added to the experience of listening.
As you can see in the review in my previous post, I didn't have much hope in a Three 6 Mafia record that wouldn't have regular contributions from Juicy J or Project Pat. On top of that, all the members who were contributing (DJ Paul, La Chat, Gangsta Boo, Crunchy Black, Lord Infamous, Koopsta Knicca and Lil Wyte) haven't all worked together at once in over ten years. I was wrong, though. This is HCP's best project since Da Unbreakables. No one seemed out of touch, or, or reaching for something that wasn't there. Felt good to hear everybody back together on "Body Parts".
If you didn't catch it back in January, Solange had a moment on twitter as she checked hipster writers who have no idea about what hip-hop culture is really about. A bad write-up on Brandy's 211 album is what got her going. She said "So you can stop acting like it just popped off last year for R&B. Like it just got interesting and experimental." She didn't sit around and just complain either. In May she announced that, through Sony, she had launched her own record label, Saint Records. We got Saint's first project this week—a compilation titled, Saint Heron. Rightfully, the album is very right now—something Solange seemed determined to express, that current R&B has a wide array of gifted artists. While not all original, it includes songs from Jhene Aiko, Kelela, BC Kingdom, Jade J, Iman Omari, Sampha, Cassie, Petite Noir, Starchild, India Shawn and a closer by Solange. Current R&B's love with the '90's that they group up in is evident but the joining of that era with our Hip-Hop/EDM production gives most of the artists featured a leg up in the "R&B is stuck" argument.
4. Vinyl Vagabonds
This isn't a project or song title (although it would be sick). Last night while in the Adams Morgan district in D.C., I dropped some zines off to Smash Records and started to get into other zines in the shop. I came across one called Vinyl Vagabonds. It's an extension of this blog , of the same name. I couldn't put it down! The writers exclusively review vinyl albums—ones that they find, buy or are given. That's what I love most about it; they give anything a chance and review it from an outside angle, while still referencing other artists that they absorb on the regular. Props to them.