Album Review: City Morgue – CITY MORGUE VOL 1: HELL OR HIGH WATER

by Dustin

citymorgue

7.5/10

Though time has seen the gradual erosion of definitive regional sounds within the landscape hip-hop, New York has always seemed to exist on the cutting edge. The state has produced some of the sharpest and most unique artists, each carrying the drive to lay claim to their slice of the east’s illustrious history. The results of this progressive spirit have been, at times, shockingly unpredictable. Case in point: City Morgue. Formed by ZillaKami and SosMula, the enigmatic duo wasted little time in working to establish themselves. Armed with the production talents of THRAXX, they began working on music a mere three days after SosMula’s release from prison. Ultimately City Morgue landed on a hyper-aggressive punk and metal inspired sound and dropped a couple of singles notable for their extremely explicit lyrics and controversial videos. This, along with ZillaKami’s impressive feature on Denzel Curry’s TA13OO album, garnered a good deal of attention for the group. A full-length project to capitalize seemed inevitable, and it came in the form of CITY MORGUE VOL. 1: HELL OR HIGH WATER on October 12th.

Absolute facemelter.

While it became apparent from the early stages of City Morgue that the bulk of both ZillaKami and SosMula’s appeal would be in their energy, they did make this project lyrically interesting. As expected, their writing throughout was graphic and often painted a picture of an extremely gruesome lifestyle. Whether it was drugs, murder, gunplay, or physical violence, there were no punches pulled; moreover, in spite of the fact that HELL OR HIGH WATER never went full blown horrorcore, it did blur the line between reality and fiction just enough to make it pleasantly uncomfortable. Both artists had such a degree of conviction behind their vocals that it made even the most outlandish lines seem believable. It truly felt like a rap snuff film at times. On top of that, they played off of each other’s styles incredibly well for such a young group. ZillaKami’s rock inspired semi-melodic scream rap was balanced out perfectly by SosMula’s much more traditional hip-hop grounding. At surface level, it would have been easy to declare Zilla the standout on most tracks due to his impressive hooks and loud delivery, but the release would not have worked nearly as well without his counterpart. Additionally, they created a dynamic in which both had ample opportunity to shine. Occasionally one member would contribute to a song in a much smaller role, such as providing a refrain, to allow the other a solo moment under the spotlight. Good chemistry is an important intangible for any group or collective, and City Morgue proved rather quickly that they have it. It elevated the entire listen, turning what could have been a bland assortment of bangers into a wildly fun slugfest of dissipated living.

The aforementioned THRAXX provided the bulk of HELL OR HIGH WATER’s production, with Ronny J tagging along for spot duty. The instrumentals could have easily been described using only the words loud and angry, sounding more like something out of Florida’s underground scene than New York. Featuring distorted guitars atop of heavily bassy trap, there was a certain industrial flavor to this album which fit the prevailing themes quite well. Matching ZillaKami and SosMula’s relentless rage fueled vigor was no issue; however, where the production did lack was in its range. There were definitely standout tracks instrumentally — “Gravehop187,” “So What,” and “SHINNERS13” in particular were monstrously hard hitting — but a lot of the deeper cuts sounded very similar despite being consistently solid. This didn’t hurt the listening experience per se, but some variation may have allowed for the more notably truculent songs to be more impactful. That being said, a debut project having had no blatantly bad beats was rather special in itself regardless of any nitpicking.

Laying the foundation for a new wave in a genre as fluid as hip-hop is never an easy task, but City Morgue did admirably with their freshman effort. Openly admitting in their “The Way Out” documentary with Mass Appeal that their sound is “a work in progress,” the potential for growth within the group was palpable. What was really astonishing though, was their ability to a bring an accessible familiarity while still being a breath of fresh air. For example, some of the SosMula focused moments on this album harkened back to early Three 6 Mafia, yet they were different enough that it felt entirely new. The lack of variety was noticeable and problematic to a degree, but it didn’t totally take away from what was accomplished here as far as instituting a groundwork. They’re self-aware artists, and it’s evident in the way they speak that they know this was the starting point and not the finish line. City Morgue’s genuine ambitious nature and confidence may just make them a force to be reckoned eventually. They may not be there quite yet, but HELL OR HIGH WATER was very much a best foot being put forward.

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PopCulturePirates Gives Raw Perspective on Music, “The Creative Scene,” and Growth as an Artist

by Dustin

pcp

It’s impossible to not feel excited when meeting an artist with a clear passion for music. No lust for popularity, just a burning desire to be the best they can be. PopCulturePirates is one of those people, and a candid human to speak with. Pulling no punches with his perspective, it was a thrill to be able to interview PCP.  We won’t hold you up on introductions, though, as this interview has been delayed enough as it is. Let’s jump straight to the meat.


EN: First and foremost, thank you for being a part of this! We have a bit of a tradition in interviews. We always start with asking the artist to write a little about themselves, because it’s always more genuine than anything I could ever write. So, if you don’t mind, that’s what I’m going to ask of you to kick things off.

PopCulturePirates: About myself? Hmm… I don’t tend to talk about myself often. Let’s see… I was born in South America. I currently reside in Dallas, Texas. I picked up guitar after graduating high school. I don’t really know what else to say without guided questions [laughs].

EN: [Laughs] We’ll just jump into it then! You mentioned to me prior to the interview that you are a part of a band as well, but what made you interested in starting the Pop Culture Pirates side project? Was it just a desire to explore different avenues?

PCP: Actually PopCulturePirates has always been my project since I began learning to write music. My band came together fairly recently, in relation to my solo project. If anything, you could probably get away with saying my other band is my side project (but not really). My writing started to be more directed towards what I would want to see live. Which is where the band came in. I wanted to be in a band all my life (even when I was still too lazy to even dedicate time to learning guitar). However, I started to learn to do everything on my own because when I actually wanted to join friends and other people’s bands, I would get rejected because of my lack of talent.

So, it was sort of a “I’ll show them, they’ll see. l can make music too.” Kind of thing. But the actual band, being part of a group of tight friends and playing music and hanging out afterwards, that was always sort of the dream. But with more people, more bodies and hearts, come more voices, more opinions, and more bullshit. So any writing that wasn’t generally accepted, or didn’t follow the band’s sound, I would keep in the backseat and develop those ideas whenever I had time.

EN: Do you feel that having the PopCulturePirates project in your back pocket from the very beginning helped your development a lot as an artist? Because it sounds like, since you were never forced to prematurely abandon an idea, that you were able to grow a lot more naturally and freely.

PCP: Even though PCP is my “solo” project, that really is just the identifying label I slap on anything I make that is somewhat guitar driven. So, to answer that question, yes, I think being Solo from the beginning allowed me to really explore anything I wanted and absorb everything I came in contact with, and make it my own instead of trying to mold it to fit any limiting “project” I could’ve been a part of.

EN: Right. So, instead of being like some side projects that have a clean cut distinct sound removed from the artists other works (like The ILYs are to Death Grips), PCP is more of a sonic scrapbook of ideas you didn’t want to throw away? I say side projects very loosely at this point, since you clarified earlier. I just can’t think of a better word.

PCP: I would flip the table and say PCP is my music and the band is my “group” project. But for the sake of not sounding pretentious, let’s just keep referring to PCP as my solo project. Also, I really enjoy Death Grips. There’s a couple bands that just ignite inspiration in me, and that’s one of them.

Anyway, I am constantly writing music, like all the time, not even joking. Some people might think I’m trying to sound like “oh look at me I got music coming out of my hands, and feet, and kisses” (Julian Casablancas reference, by the way) and some people might think, “that’s just sad, mediocre music is all this guy can do? Pathetic.” But whatever the people’s thoughts are, the fact it I am always constantly writing melodies and lyrics and stuff. I’ve got over 11GB of demos and snippets I’ve recorded and have backed up. So it’s not really like a scrapbook, it’s more like I’m sort of rationing out my creative output.

At one point the band was all that I was writing for, but the progress of four people learning songs and getting them tighter can only go so fast and agreeing on changes and ideas. I became frustrated (not in a bad way, i just felt like I had to keep going) so I went back to writing for myself (PCP).

Oh, man, it’s really not my intention to sound like a pretentious piece of shit. I want everyone that might read this to know what I aware of my creative capabilities, I know I’m not that good making music. Or, I don’t think I am, but I am constantly getting better and one day I will be great. And then maybe I will be a pretentious asshole, when I have the skills and discography to back it up [jokingly anxious laughter]!

EN: [Laughs] don’t sell yourself short either. On that note though, do you think the current DIY scene is the perfect sort of environment for an artist like yourself? There’s such a fascination with eclectic, homemade, music. And the stuff you release under the PCP banner definitely fits that. Whereas I think some time ago, it may have been harder to have that freedom.

PCP: I think for the laymen, or just casual listeners, it’s great. There’s so much variety, so much content, they’re happy to be thrown all this cool music. Today everybody is a musician and everybody is a producer. Like the lyrics on my single Everything Is Forever say: “…Everyone with a pen is a poet, and everyone with a canvas is an artist…” Anybody with a laptop can make a shitty recording and people go wild. I don’t know if I’m happy to fit in there, to be honest. If I could make way better sounding music I would. I would love to be writing for or working with huge bands like the 1975 (I’m not a big fan of them) or Arctic Monkeys, but instead I’m making weird Lofi diy indie pop goodness. But I’m hoping to get better. I do think my material gets more and more refined the more I do it. Maybe I’m just a slow learner.

But nonetheless, i am grateful and blessed to have received the attention I have. I am very thankful to people like you, taking the time to actually listen and recognize the work I put into what I do. And yes, now that that Lofi sound is what’s sort of “in” I am able to receive such positive response. In the past it would’ve probably been met with, “you sound like you just recorded through an 8-track, what are you doing with your life? Making the wrong choices obviously.” But I recognize I do have to thank the current DIY Lofi global phenomenon for even making it possible for me to reach as far as I have. I might not even be making music today if it wasn’t for it, i probably would’ve given up long, long, ago.

EN: I definitely understand what you mean, and unfortunately I think there is a crowd that uses that LoFi sound as a crutch. That being said, I think my interest in it is less as an aesthetic and more with the people in your sort of situation. Where it’s not LoFi for the sake of being LoFi, but it’s that way for the sake of actually being able to release music. I think there’s something beautifully genuine about that sort of never quit attitude. You know what I mean? Like, I would argue even acts like The Voidz carry that sort of spirit into more refined places. It’s not limited to LoFi.

PCP: I think Julian’s work has always carried that sort of grittiness, aside from his first solo and his Daft Punk collab. He has always tried to push that outlier music to the forefront. I guess Lofi can translate in many cases to rawness, which that in itself can translate to pure emotion through various states of sonic synthesis haha. I don’t know. I think you’re right. I think Lofi is a phase and it’s more important when it becomes forgotten and moved away from. It makes it so much more important. If you’re a lofi artist and all you do is lofi, i think that’s kind of dumb and takes away from it. Lofi is like the birth sound of one’s musicianship. It defines your beginnings, but if you’re doing Lofi because that’s what’s popular now, I feel it blurs the lines of what Lofi could mean in a musicians career.

I don’t know. I think I might be contradicting myself and talking out my butt. I think Lofi, like indie, shouldn’t be recognized as a genre.

EN: You think it’s more of a state of being? Like how you wouldn’t consider “clean studio recording,” a genre. It’s a trait of the music but not a genre.

PCP: That’s pretty much it. But I’m not mad about it, I just feel like that’s what it is to me. It’s all subjective I suppose.

EN: But, you would prefer if people took the nature of your sound as a reflection of where your career is and less as a reflection of what kind of music you’re trying to make. Would that be accurate? Say, in ten years. You’d rather look back on it like “these demos showed a lot of promise even though I didn’t have full studio access,” than “I used to be a lofi artist.”

PCP: Yes. But they would be demos really, they were final products that reflected my mental state, my physical skills, my financial level, etc. For everybody else it’s just a song but I guess for my it would be like “diary.” They would **not** be demos really. Like if you keep a diary, and you started when you were little and wrote on a crappy notebook; when you look back, it wouldn’t just be about what you wrote,It would also be the feel of that sheet of paper to the touch, the smell of it, the way it crumpled up, the teardrops, or blood stains, or food droplets, or anything and everything on it, it brings you back to that moment. You can “digitize” it and copy it into Microsoft word to save it forever and it would have the same legible content, but it loses the importance of what that original object was.

EN: I’m kind of understand more what you said earlier now. When you make LoFi a genre, it strips a bit of the intimacy the artist has with those older projects away. Right?

PCP: I think so, but pop culture takes anything it wants whenever it wants it. And this is not only evident with the topic we’re on but a lot of other things going on in the world that I’d rather not delve into.

EN: Is that sort of sentiment where the name PopCulturePirates came from?

PCP: Yeah, sort of. It’s like going against pop culture, being an outsider… Culture is so much bigger than just music and fashion. But that’s the theory, not the practice. I wish I would’ve been more strict with the ethos the moniker carries with it, but I ended up making music that could be considered “pop” right now anyway. Now I’m going against myself, and what my moniker stood for. I was younger and wanted to make something that would be huge, bigger than myself. Something that could mean something philosophically, politically, socially, that people could relate to. But it never got to that, I was never able to get to that point. I think I was simply limited by my most basic musician skills. And I just couldn’t create something that big. But I’m not mad nor disappointed, it’s just a little embarrassing admitting that, but beyond that, it’s whatever.

EN: I think the name is one of those things that’s vague enough to move past your original intentions though. Don’t you think there’s a lot of potential there for listeners to interpret it in various ways?

PCP: There is, but people don’t really pay any attention to the names. I feel even musicians at this point don’t even care about the names either. Porches? Bleachers? Quilt? Even Car Seat Headrest (I’ve read the reason behind the name, but still). Those are all stupid-ass names in my honest opinion, but I love all those bands. Except Bleachers… Bleachers is “meh” to me. But Porches is amazing. Car Seat’s song “Vincent” is my latest favorite song. Quilt blew my mind the first time I heard them. But people might think that of PCP too, it has 3 very “evoking” words. I’ve been trying to push my single to a few people, and some reactions to just the name have been “that name really turned me off, I almost didn’t listen to it because of the name.” At the same time some others say that it was a great name choice, as it makes you guess what direction it’s going to go, as opposed to naming the project something mundane like “Chair.” I have no fucking idea what that means, nothing comes to mind if someone would mention a band called “Chair,” you know? But with PCP I feel like those 3 words in different combinations call to mind very different things. I realize that the “pirates” could make people think of hard punk or gypsy folk. But nonetheless, I like the name, it meant something at one point, it’s catchy, and interesting. A bit original. At least I think so.

Though, now that I think about it. “Chair” would be a very interesting name. Poking fun at all the stupid names out there right now. Might make it an album name at some point.

EN: At the end of the day though, you want the music to speak for itself, yeah?

PCP: I’m sure everyone would agree to that, yes.

EN: We touched a bit on a few acts that inspired you, but who else did you listen to that really made you want to be involved in creating music? Inspirations, so to speak.

PCP: I hate to jump on the bandwagon, but The Strokes were the ones that made me go, “hmm… that’s cool. I wanna try doing that.” I hate admitting that because I feel they inspired pretty much everyone who listened to them, sort of what they say about The Velvet Underground. They might’ve not been as commercially successful, but every single person that heard them went home and started a band. They were very influential. That’s where the “dream” of starting a band came from, after watching their first tour documentary, “In Transit.” They looked like they really loved one another and they were brothers and best friends conquering the world together. That shit was beautiful to me. That’s what I wanted. But finding a band was very hard so I ended up just honing in on “solo” songwriting, because that’s all I could do and wanted to do, at that point.

Other than The Strokes, I would say John Mayer really got me into exploring more complex guitar playing and into a little bit of blues. Blues is cool and all, and I respect it for what it is, but you can play any combination of notes in a blues scale and it will sound good. That makes it too easy and dull to me. There’s many obvious musicians and bands that made a career out of the blues, but I feel like now it’s just a learning phase. “Okay I learned to play bars, chords, and all. Now I will learn the blues scale, and then proceed to jazz music theory, and so on.” You know what I mean? I feel like I totally deviated to talk shit about the blues, but no disrespect, blues is the foundation. I love it, but I want more.

Other than that… I had a big Dave Matthews Band phase. That would be all I would listen to for like 6 months straight. His guitar playing was pretty influential. I still warm up by playing the “Satellite” riff which really makes your fingers stretch. Another band that really influenced me was an Argentinian band called Soda Stereo. I grew up with their album playing in the background pretty much 24/7.

EN: We’ve had Julian Casablancas come up a few times now, and reflecting on what you said, I have even had people in other genres mention him to me before. Aside from the brotherhood element of watching The Strokes, do you think his magnetic artistry just pulls people into music? Like for myself, I always looked up to him as someone unrestrained. It was refreshing.

PCP: I really dislike talking about The Strokes because it’s so unoriginal to do so. It feels like everyone is just in on the Strokes band wagon. I know that’s not the case, they are in fact THAT influential. They all have that rock and roll swagger. And Albert Hammond Jr., his first two albums are amazing, he is a great songwriter. But I feel like he kind of fell off with his third releases up until this last one. His last album, Francis Trouble, it’s really, really, good. And I just saw him live about a month ago. I was blown away at his stage presence, the sound, and the songs. But I could talk about them for days, but I’d rather not. Citing them as inspiration is overdone and uninteresting in my opinion. I’d rather say something like… Grimes totally inspired me to be a little weirder with my music. I actually have had a crush on grimes for a bit. And now she’s dating Elon musk. That blows my mind. I can’t compete with that. That was the whole reason I really started doing music. So I would seem cool to her and we could hang out and stuff, y’know? Now I can’t do that. How do you top Elon musk? You don’t. You can’t.

EN: So, you’d totally support a Grimes song being the national anthem of the first Mars settlement, even if she doesn’t notice you and fall in love? [Laughs].

PCP: I’m 100% on board with that. But I’d rather, you know, be noticed? Maybe co-write the anthem? With Elon’s approval obviously, I wouldn’t do anyone dirty like that. ‘Specially my boy, Elon. By that point in history he might already have developed a personal travel size death ray and is willing to use it on anyone who opposes him or gives his girl the googly eyes (for example: me).

EN: Let’s talk about Everything is Forever for a minute, because to me that song feels like you really took a massive leap in all artistic facets. Like, don’t get me wrong, I adore Death, The Kid. There’s just something about Everything is Forever that feels so complete… How do you feel about that track? Do you think it marks a new step forward in your songwriting?

PCP: To be honest, “Death, The Kid.” Is a step down from “Kanye” because “Death” was just a collection of demos going as far back as 2010 that I uploaded because it hadn’t been a productive year for my music. I didn’t really have much to show, so I decided to just upload this collection of old tracks. Aside from the two new songs I wrote that year which were Bad Luck and Kirito’s Dream. You can probably see more of a relation between those two and Everything Is Forever.

But I do like Everything Is Forever very much. I don’t think it’s too much of a leap for my style. But I do love the clash I was able to manage between very refined, Hi-fi guitars and cymbals against the lo-fi kick, snare, and vocals. The repetitive ending I initially intended on extending it for over a minute longer to emphasize the “Forever.” As in to make people say “damn, this part lasts forever” and then recognize that and the relation to the title of the song and be like “oh shit! I get it!” But then I thought to myself, nobody would probably pay that much attention to it. So I kept it shorter, but still kind of long and repetitive. But I don’t think it’s necessarily a new step, I think if anything I might’ve kept the songwriting on a leash a bit. I’ve been slowly finding out that, as cliche as it sounds, less is more. But then I went in and threw shit on its head by keeping that out-of-left-field outro.
There’s a song on the album coming out called “Where Is The Destruction,” and another called “Medallion City,” I feel like both of those challenged my songwriting a little more than EIF, each in its own way. Though, Everything Is Forever is a very emotional song, nostalgic summer vibe, sad crushing lyrics, the energy gets carried through in a very flowing fashion with its arrangement. It’s interesting. I like it. I’m proud of it.

EN: Apart from the other couple of songs you mentioned, does your new album carry that nostalgic vibe throughout? Or is it more varied?

PCP: It definitely has more variation.

EN: Does your musical process change at all when you know that you’re working on songs intended to be released on an album? I ask because I tend to get mixed answers to this, and it’s interesting. Some seem to feel their process becomes more intensive, others say it doesn’t change at all.

PCP: Not really. Usually I just write and write songs, when I have about… I don’t know, 7-11 good songs (which are usually picked from maybe 20 or so) I then “package” them as an album. For this last album though, I was approached by Breakwood Records (sweethearts) and they heard Everything Is Forever and decided to help me put out the next album. We sort of agreed on an imaginary deadline for me to provide all the songs for the LP. I ended up writing about 6 of the songs from it in like three months maybe. I did think it was going to become more intensive as I had never had any sort of “pressure” to finish songs but all that changed was me making more time in my day to day life to write music. That was it really, other than that it was sort of the same.

EN: How do you feel about doing something with a label? That’s super cool. And also, I should say, congratulations! Even with the internet, getting noticed like that is no small feat.

PCP: They’re a small independent label from Canada that just began, they’re the coolest and sweetest. But to be honest the coolest thing about it is not really being able to say “oh look at me, I’m on a label,” but instead having people that really, really, listen to my material and are critical, and honest, and interested in my music. They believe in what I do, and that honestly is a beautiful feeling.

EN: I can understand that, that’s a great attitude to carry into it. Nobody will show you more support than an independent label that loves you, and I truly believe that. On a funnier note, I am also from Canada. How does it feel to have a strange destiny bond with the Canadian music scene? [Laughs].

PCP: Dudeeeee, to be honest it’s awesome. I’m starting to feel like Toronto is replacing New York as the music city to be in, in my mind. Plus, some of my favorite musicians are from there: Dirty Beaches, Crystal Castles, Broken Social scene, Metric, and so on. And of course, who can forget, Grimes.

EN: If you had the chance to form a band composed of any living musician, who would you have in there?

PCP: If I could I would clone myself and play in a band with 4 or 5 me’s. Because anybody I would pick is probably going to be way more skilled than me, to the point where I would be the weakest link. But with 5 me’s, we all would be on the same level of everything and on the same page, plus no egos because it’s really just me, you know?

EN: You’re smart. You’re really smart. You avoided Meg White-ing yourself entirely with one of the most unconventional answers I’ve ever received. Good man [laughs]. But actually, that’s got me thinking. You said earlier that you started by learning guitar, but what was the process like learning other instruments in order to complete full songs? It’s not easy to learn multiple instruments, never mind learning how to properly work them into a piece of music.

PCP: In high school everybody had to pick an instrument, I picked drums. The instructors said all the drummer spots were taken, so I chose saxophone, they said those were taken too so they put me with trumpet. I hated trumpet then. I appreciate it now. But I don’t play it anymore. Guitar… it’s a weird story. My mother was in a band and she always had a guitar in the house I would pick it up for 3 days every 3 months and decide I wanted to learn. I never did. I got instructors that I’d go to once and never again because they would send homework and I’d rather just play The Legend of Zelda. It wasn’t until my senior year of high school where I was like, “alright, let’s do this.”

On bass I get by with just what I know on guitar. And drums I learned because one of my roommates in the college dorms mentioned he used to play drums and had an electronic drum kit. I showed a song i had done and tried to convince him that we could totally start a band so that he would bring the kit to our dorm. He eventually did and that’s where I started learning how to drum. I would often skip classes if he had already left just so I could play. Since they were electronic drums nobody would complain. It was awesome. Drums are the funnest instrument but also the hardest to learn in my opinion. I have good timing but syncing your movements, that was tough. I learned by playing along to LCD Soundsystem songs. Because the drumming isn’t overly complicated but it goes, it goes, it goes, guillotineeeee [laughs]. The drummer on LCD just keeps the beat for all the 7 plus minute songs. I love LCD, man, one of. My favorites. James’ urban poetry destroys me emotionally.

EN: Are there any others you want to add to your arsenal in the future? Maybe throw a flute solo on a PCP track in the future? Or…like, bassoon?

PCP: I have a deep fascination for sampling and the way hip hop music is and has been constructed. I will incorporate that probably into my upcoming songwriting. So instead of learning an instrument, I would most likely sample it and make it weird. But if I definitely had to choose an instrument to learn. I’d probably say violin. That instrument is so beautiful and versatile.

EN: Have you ever watched some of the artists who do live sampling on stage with an MPC, or whatever? Some of those dudes turn that into an extremely delicate art. How’d you pick up an interest in the art of the sample?

PCP: I have another project where I make experimental “beats” that I lease to small rappers. A lot of my money for gear has come from that. My love for sampling came from having an obsession with New York producer, Blockhead. He is one of my all time favorite producers. Dan the Automator too.

Aarabmuzik is a freakin’ god using an MPC live. His finger drumming is almost mathematically quantized. He’s crazy.

EN: Is there anything you fear musically? For yourself, I mean. A direction or attitude that you hope you never start to take on.

PCP: I fear running out of ideas. Of good ideas. Sometimes when I don’t write music for a while, when I come back to it it’s as if I forgot how to write songs, so I go through a couple ideas which end up in the trash because they sound terrible and I get a little fearful thinking “maybe that’s it, maybe I’ll never write anything decent again, I’m all washed up.” It sounds dumb, but that’s something crosses my mind often.

EN: What sort of advice would you give to others who’ve felt that way? I know when I’m working on my music projects, it’s a regular fear of my own too. Hell, Rajin (my other writer) has watched me have near meltdowns thinking I’ve lost my touch. What do you do to move past that worry? Just keep grinding?

PCP: As cliche as it sounds, yeah. Just keep doing it until you either find your next good idea or until you truly can’t find anything else and give up. But the latter should be if you’ve been going at it for like a year maybe? And nothing comes out, then maybe then you’re all dried. Or maybe not. I don’t know [laughs].

EN: In all seriousness though, do you find breaks from writing music to be essential to the creative process?

PCP: I think sometimes you do need breaks physically, specially after hours and hours of writing, or mixing. Your ears get shot and you stop hearing things as they actually are. Your ears get tired. But maybe you do need to let that “creativity bank” refill every now and then. So I guess short answer: yes.

Also, if anybody has any other advice as to how to deal with the fear of drying up, hit me up. There should be a better way to deal with that which I haven’t yet learned.

EN: Is there anything that you have learned along the way that you wish you had known when you first started writing music?

PCP: The actual process of learning all I know, however long it took, that’s part of the whole artist thing. If I knew then what I knew now, the journey of becoming a musician would not be as exciting and accomplishing. I honestly hate referring to myself as a musician or an artist, I feel it is very pretentious. Not to give a smart ass answer, but truly looking back, I wouldn’t share any information with myself. I would watch myself go through all of it all over again. Over the same mistakes I went through and through the same victories I had.

Although maybe having the contact information of a few people earlier on would have helped [laughs].

EN: So you’d leave a little book of phone numbers and emails, but still let yourself experience those natural growing pains? [Laughs]. I don’t think that’s smartass at all. Every struggle, every misstep, everything makes you who you are as an artist now.

PCP: Yeah, I guess. Not to get philosophical or anything, but yeah, every pain you experience makes you who you are today. So every hassle and hurdle with respect to music would make you the music maker you are today.

EN: What should people expect from you as an artist in the future in terms of releases? I know you said you were working on an album to come out under the PCP handle. Any plans for a band album release sometime?

PCP: With the band we’re actually recording at the moment. When you asked me if there was anything I had learned that I wish I would’ve know. In the beginning, I was tracking vocals at that exact time. I remember pulling my phone out and seeing your question while singing. I don’t think people shouldn’t expect anything from me. But I hope to be able to just improve and put out better and better material.

EN: And is that how you would like people to think of you? An artist with humility, but also a burning desire to continue improving every day?

PCP: Not really. Maybe in the long run, after I die, it would be cool if I don’t get remembered as a piece of shit. I honestly think my humility can easily come off as pretentiousness, somehow. But, I would just like for people to really like what I do. That’s pretty much it. Hopefully someone can see beyond the surface of the music and really get the substance of whatever I’m trying to say in that specific piece. But, as long as people just like it, I guess I’m ok with that. But my main, main, goal would be to cause in someone what other great artists caused in me.

Celebrating the Growing Importance of Physical Media

by Dustin

cassette2

To be completely honest, the title to this article might sound odd to most. How can physical media possibly be more important than ever when digital has steamrolled the industry? At the surface level, it is dead. Retailers are pulling the last of the CDs off the shelves, marking the end of a decades-long music media evolutionary process. Yet, many have never spent more money on CDs, vinyl, and cassettes than they do now. I am extremely bad. If I don’t budget a monthly allowance to be spent on music I suddenly find myself in a position where groceries are particularly troublesome. Financial tomfoolery aside, I’ve come to realize that moving back toward physical releases has changed my relationship with music entirely. With today being Record Store Day my friends and I wanted to take a minute to share our passion for this fading corner of the music scene, and hopefully shed some light on why we consider physical releases more important now than they have ever been.

“In a world where streaming makes music easier to consume than ever, it seems as though its value is continuously decreasing. For a long time now, I’ve been confronted with the question “why buy a song when I can download it for free?” However, with the increasing prevalence of streaming, which poses as a way to “support” artists in a cheap (potentially free) way, the statement seems to just be given more validation. I’ve always felt that streaming is dissatisfying in many ways; there’s no connection between fan and artist. Physical albums allow that connection to exist. You have something tangible to hold, you have to store and maintain them, you get to surround yourself with what you love. They allow the music to keep its value in a market where it’s more dispensable than ever.”
@RajinBuu

“Buying records means reading liner notes. It means learning about the friends and family involved with the project and glimpsing into their world. It also meant (like in the case of Outkast) learning just exactly what they were saying in the days before OHHLA or Genius.”
@deaconlf

“As both an artist and a music lover I appreciate something tangible and it warmed my heart as an artist to know that so many fans wanted to buy a physical copy of our debut project, my mom bought one my dad bought one it was something that they can look at and say “wow my kid did this” and fans can look at and say “yeah I can touch this, I can hold on to it, I can frame it” it’s like a time capsule from a forgotten period where projects stayed in your rotation for longer than a week and reviews weren’t done instantly but it’s an incredible thing to be apart of, physical music goes right along with t shirts and posters as genuine mercy.”
@MTFRyourmom of @_Nobodies

“Physical releases, no matter the format, are more important than ever now. Much of our lives exist between ones and zeros, so holding and hearing and smelling something like a record can really fill the binary void… Establish a sense of connection beyond the internet. As soon as the needle hits the groove something real happens and it is fucking beautiful. It’s almost primal at this point. I think this is true with vinyl, cassettes and CDs. All formats provide a tangible experience that sounds better than streaming, hope people stop arguing about ‘superior’ formats and just focus on making something beautiful and real. Physical releases are awesome”
@FilthyBrokeRex

For myself it’s much of the same. I crave the connection to art that only physical media can provide. From the beauty of large format cover art to the excitement of finding carefully placed easter eggs inside the album booklet, there is a tactile appeal to the senses that cannot be found anywhere else. For me, it transforms listening to an album from a simple act of consumption to an event that feels special and unique every single time. The thrill of entering a record store or thrift shop and crate digging can only be surmounted by the childlike wonder I feel when my hands finally reach something that I want. My music collection at any given moment is a treasure trove of memories, personal discovery, and adventure. It’s something I curated for myself and nobody else; a scrapbook of self-assuredness that carries all my convictions in taste. I wouldn’t trade that feeling for the world.

There’s also the element of showing that you care. The artists I love create music that becomes an integral part of who I am, and as such I want to support them in any way that I can. Attending concerts isn’t realistic all the time, but buying something that I can hold, show people, and proudly display is always an option. Digital media feels so incredibly disposable, and to me that undermines the effort and dedication these individuals pour into creating something for us to enjoy. Sure, I can acknowledge that 25 or 30 dollars for a vinyl record sounds expensive; however, when you start to consider the entire process behind the album’s existence, it really isn’t that much money. Support keeps people creating. At the end of the day, I’m more than willing to shell out extra if it helps my favorite musicians are able to stick around a little longer. Fraction of a penny streams don’t pay the bills for anybody who isn’t already a star, and that fact alone would be enough for me to proclaim physical media’s importance in the modern climate.

If you still carry any doubts, please take the time to visit a record store today (or at any point in the near future). If you’ve never been fortunate enough to take the time, it is a vastly different experience than endlessly perusing music on Spotify or Google Play. It’s a world that not enough people take advantage of these days, yet there’s a reason it pulls so many of us in. We could sit here for days and try to explain, but really you won’t get it until you try for yourself. Who knows, you could just end up catching the same bug that bit the rest of us from the very moment we purchased our first albums. Apologize to your wallet on my behalf, and have fun!

Happy Record Store Day.

Bambi of FilthyBroke Recordings Gives Her Perspective on Being a Woman Behind the Scenes in the Music Industry

by Dustin

fbr

The music industry is a interesting world, and not always a friendly one. This is true from the top all the way down to the grass root level. Many on the outside are completely unaware of everything that goes on outside of the spotlight, leaving it to those who work in the shadows. Fortunately, sometimes these people share their experience. Today’s interviewee is one of those people. Bambi, the designer-slash-promoter-slash-wonder-woman at FilthyBroke Recordings, was gracious enough to lend us an interview discussing all the wonders of working at a do-it-yourself record label; moreover, she speaks on being a woman in a male-dominant scene, and how it’s shaped her perspective on all things music.

Read the interview below, it’s worth it.


EN: As usual, I’ll ask you to give a brief introduction to yourself. Whenever you’re ready. And we’ll just jump off from there.

Bambi: I’m Bambi, I’m originally from the Bay Area; currently living in Seattle, Washington. I work with FilthyBroke Recordings.

EN: Did you have any experience working in music before, or has FilthyBroke been your first adventure down that avenue?

Bambi: I started working with FilthyBroke in fall of 2016. Prior to that I worked for a few years in music in various capacities, put out a release with a former friend, some light managerial stuff (basically answering emails), building & running the website, shipping, that kind of stuff. Concurrently I worked part time at an entertainment V.C. in Oakland, which invested in local venues, recording studios and the like.

EN: What capacity do you work in with FilthyBroke? I know you’ve done a bit of design, but I suppose I’m curious of what your day-to-day is like when working with the label.

Bambi: Yup, I do art/design work for releases and video bumps. My day to day label responsibilities vary. I’m responsible for updating and maintaining the website along with my homie who built the site, instagram, art for promos, and so on. Michael and I spend a lot of time on FaceTime listening to music and brainstorming for upcoming releases, merch, and other projects and figuring out how to make it happen. Currently we’re preparing for his upcoming OMLT release in February and I’m handling the merch end. We will be releasing some T’s & hoodies along with his new EP.

EN: I imagine the creative freedom is nice when working in that sort of environment, but does it ever feel like there’s very little room for mess-ups with it being a DIY style label?

Bambi: FBR has been around almost 4 years now, but we are still a very small label. We are still trying to carve out our own niche and grow. The smaller you are, the more detrimental mistakes, even small ones and especially financial ones are. Not only that but we don’t sign artists, we work with them on a project by project basis. As Michael noted online the other day ”labels need artists way more than the other way around” and we often build friendships with the artists we work with and we want to do right by them because we respect them and appreciate we couldn’t continue without them.

EN: So you guys feel like establishing the friendships helps to make sure everyone stays happy? Because that’s a very unique and personable approach.

Bambi: I’m not saying we have to be friends with every artist we put out. A mutual respect and belief in the music is more than enough. Just noting that often we get to know people while working on releases and it sometimes develops into friendships that extend past the project. But I do think working with people you vibe with and relate to on a personal level makes for a better experience all around.

EN: Does the vibe that Michael has with FilthyBroke Recordings suit you as a person better than your previous experiences in music? Having worked with both of you myself, I know the label cares a lot. It seems like it would be fun to be involved in (and it has been for me).

Bambi: For sure. Working with someone that listens to your input and respects your opinions and ideas is always the ideal, which I feel like Michael does. I know people say you shouldn’t get into business with friends or family and while it definitely can and has gone badly for me previous I still think getting money with friends is the best kind of money to get.

EN: Something I’ve noticed when networking is that women are fairly absent behind the scenes in music. Aside from artists, often when I’m contacting a label or manager they’re men. You’re actually one of the few I know with active involvement behind the scenes. Do you feel that women are underrepresented in that facet of the industry?

I know that’s sort of a blunt question, but it’s something I’ve noticed. It’s quite odd.

Bambi: Underrepresented, yes absolutely, but not necessarily for lack of involvement. Particularly at the indie level there’s a shit-ton of wives, girlfriends, sisters, and female friends behind the scenes answering emails, shipping merch, planning shows, hitting up record shops and listening to the same unfinished song 6,789 times because a high-hat was added. You know, just trying to help make it happen. Shit, some of these dudes likely going on tour with mom’s Amex (I stole that mom’s Amex bit from Michael).

I want to make it clear I’m not saying all artists do this by any means, but I do think is fairly common place, especially at the beginning and end of careers. I have no issue with it, supporting the people around you is important. What I do take issue with is the lack of credit. I don’t give a shit if all they’re doing is packing and shipping merch, if your homie did you a favor you’d shout him out; but, I see some of these motherfuckers out there acting like they do all this shit on their own or down-playing (either during or after the fact) the contributions of other, especially woman, which is a foul. And yes, I’m speaking from experience.

It’s one of the reasons I was very hesitant when Michael asked me to work with FBR. It took me a few months of me ‘helping out’ and him continually demanding I be credited for my work to really be like, ok I guess we’re in it to win it now. Oh, and you know what? He actually pays me. Even if it’s just a few bucks, I get my cut and I get it in a timely fashion. Amazing.

EN: Do you feel like this has created sort of an environment of complacency among those not being credited? As if they feel they’re just supposed to help however they can and ask for nothing back, particularly among the supporting women in a label or artists life?

Bambi: I don’t think it’s complacency. I’ve had to learn to take credit for my work (I didn’t even realize people received art layout credits until last year) and that expecting/taking credit isn’t asking for accommodation it’s just getting what’s due and what I’d give anyone else I work with.

I don’t think everyone does it intentionally, but I do think that it’s speaks to a larger mentality. As more artists move away from labels and sell independently I think most have realized how important their fans are. But, that also means a lot more reliance on fans for help beyond just buying music and going to shows. I’ve seen supporters help get people booked, do cover art, and web design work, etc and barely get a thanks much less paid. End of the day, gender issues aside and regardless if you work in music or not, I think it’s important to appreciate and acknowledge the people supporting you and if you can’t do that at least give them credit on their work, especially if you aren’t paying them. You meet the same people going up as you do going down.

I suppose to change shit the burdens gotta be on both parties. Basically, don’t be an asshole and regardless if you’re getting paid demand credit on your art, web designs, beats, etc.

EN: Do you have any advice for individuals who, likes yourself at one point, might be struggling to work up the courage to actually ask for their due credit? I realize that’s sort of open ended, but I imagine there are hundreds if not thousands in situations where they aren’t receiving their just dues.

Bambi: For me it wasn’t that I was scared to speak up and more just being naive. I kinda fell into the music business, I never intended to be here, so for a long time I just assumed if I’m not getting credited then it’s not work people typically get credit for. And that’s on me for being a dumbass expecting most people wanna do right by others and not properly educating myself. Once I realized that wasn’t the case shit changed. So do I guess my advice would be pay attention and get informed.

EN: Something semi-related I wanted to speak with you about is bullying in the industry. Particularly from a gender issues perspective but also just in general. I was speaking to an artist recently who expressed sadness over how many of her male peers seem to be quick to try and push her around. Would you say this is something prevalent in the industry even at the Do-it-Yourself/Underground level?

I ask because I know bullying is an issue of great importance to FilthyBroke as a label. Such as the anti-bullying fundraising compilation record you guys curated (which I will link to here).

Bambi: Full disclosure here, I am a bully. I’ve dealt with bullies my whole life and I learned very young if someone keeps fucking with you, you fight back. Fight fire with fire so to speak. I know that a lot of people don’t agree with that way of thinking and think you should always try to be the bigger person. I admire those kinda people but I’m not one of them and I don’t want to misrepresent myself.
I think it happens a lot at all levels. I can’t speak from a female artists perspective, but I’ve seen it happen from a third party view. As well as there’s definitely been a number of instances for me personally where I’ve felt like I was being talked down to, dismissed or pushed around from either male artists or males working in other aspects of music. But it can be a difficult thing to stand up for yourself, especially to people who may be more successful in music or who’s work you admire. Not only that but the music world is truly very small, with a lot of business and friendships mixing. I think (hope) things are changing but it’s still very much a “boys club” type mentality in a lot of ways. As a woman I think when you confront someone in any work environment you run the risk of getting labeled ‘difficult’ or ‘crazy’ or ‘emotional’ or (insert any code word for bitch).

I don’t blame anyone for being hesitant or feeling too intimidated to speak up as it could have the potential to damage working and/or personal relationships, as well as, current or future opportunities beyond the person you’re calling out.

EN: I don’t really want to condone or condemn what you opened with, but I almost feel like there are certain situations where bullying the bullies is a necessary evil. I’m sure there are plenty of people who just won’t stop, even if the victim tries to be the better person. Right? I know that was the case when I was a kid. It doesn’t seem to change much as adults. Though I can’t speak on the music industry specifically.

Bambi: Apologies, I think something got lost in translation or I misspoke. I don’t condone unprovoked bullying. What I meant was some people have the capacity to rise above negativity, but I find that very challenging and in opposition to my natural tendencies. I don’t start shit but I’ll end it.

EN: Oh yeah, I got that part of it. I didn’t think you were condoning it by any means. I suppose I was just thinking aloud that sometimes rising above the negativity isn’t enough to make the situation cease. I know a lot of people who try to and then slowly get sucked back into being picked on. And it’s really a shame.

Bambi: Agreed. When you encounter people that do fucked up shit I think most decent people struggle between rising above (which is often in their own best interest) and fighting against in hopes that no one else has to suffer the same bullshit.

EN: Do you think the general public would be surprised at how nasty individuals in the music scene can be to each other behind closed doors? I imagine some people’s heroes are absolutely despicable people when in private. It’s scary.

Bambi: I don’t think anyone is surprised about how low and despicable people in the music industry can be. I do think they’d be surprised by some of the people perpetrating though. I think it’s pretty common that when some is really into an artist’s music that they get a feeling that they know or understand them on a more personal level. Often they feel they have faced similar challenges or feelings as themselves. So it can be a hard pill to swallow that someone you look up to, someone who has the emotional empathy to convey musically what you feel could possibly be a shitty person.

I mean how could a dude who has the ability and courage to see corrupt shit in the world and call it out possibly steal money from someone they work with? How could someone who’s written songs about love and heartache possibly mistreat a woman? How can a dude who raps about street shit possibly be a coward or snitch in actual life?

EN: Has experiencing some of the industries underbelly made you appreciate those that actively try to be transparent in themselves more?

Bambi: Yes, for sure. Like I said I was very hesitant to get involved with FilthyBroke after my past experiences. But Michael was persistent and proved himself trustworthy and I’m glad I took the gamble because it’s allowed me to work with some awesome folks and restored my faith in people quite a bit. Big shoutouts to Balam Acab, Molly Drag, HotScience, and of course yourself who have all been great to work with.

EN: Do you feel like your taste in music has expanded or evolved since you started working alongside Michael at the label? Because I imagine you hear a ton of things you may not have been exposed to otherwise.

Bambi: Absolutely. Left to my own devices I just listen to rap. So working with FBR I’ve grown to appreciate and enjoy a much larger variety of genres and musicians that I would not have discovered otherwise. So it’s been good! Although, sometimes Michael plays real weird shit I just can’t vibe with…like Ween.

EN: I support all good hearted potshots at Michael and especially at Ween in this interview.

Have you found that listening to different genres has made you appreciate things about rap even more too? I spoke about this with my other writer before. We both feel like branching out into other things has helped us appreciate and understand what we like about hip-hop even more as well. It’s weird that way.

Bambi: I get what you’re saying. I mean, honestly? Sometimes after listening to other stuff for a couple hours it all starts to blend and sound the same to me. Where as I can listen to hip hop exclusively for weeks on end and never get tired of it because there’s such a broad spectrum. It’s just personal taste, what speaks to me, I personally have yet to figure out the specifics of why though.

EN: On another note, I was looking at the cover for the new Hot Science project FilthyBroke was involved in releasing. That cover is phenomenal. And I know that you were the one behind that, And a bunch of other really cool visuals the label has put out. When did you start getting involved in the design aspect of things?

Bambi: I loved drawing when I was a kid, my grandma was big into music and art and I grew up around a lot of graf dudes so I’ve always been around creative types. But it wasn’t until getting involved with FBR when I started doing CD and j-card layouts. As I learned and got better at using adobe, I moved into promo flyers and videos, etc. And finally this latest Hot Science cover art, I’m hella hyped how it turned out and he was awesome to work with.

EN: That’s awesome, I think you definitely have a knack for it. How did the concept for the Hot Science cover even come together? It looks like layers of paper cutouts. I’ve never quite seen anything like it before.

Bambi: Thank you Dustin. Michael came up with the general concept, to be honest I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to pull it off, it’s definitely the most involved out of all the projects I’ve done so far. I hand drew the illustrations separately and then scanned them into adobe to layer them. I also did the animation in photoshop because I wanted it to look kind of like stop motion.

EN: Fuck, that’s definitely what it was reminding me of! It’s like one of those stop motion paper-figure films, but like, the Tim Burton version of one. In album cover form. Did you enjoy tackling something more ambitious like that?

Bambi: Nice, that’s the feel I was going for. It’s a dope album and I wanted to do Sam’s (Hot Science) music/work justice and make sure it was reflective of the vibe he was going for. Again, he was great to work with and really down for whatever so I absolutely enjoyed the project. Whenever I take on something new it’s always nerve racking, this is was no exception. But I am really happy with how it turned out.

EN: Is design something you hope to keep being a part of going forward with the label? Has it become something you’re excited to keep working at and improving in?

Bambi: Definitely. It can be somewhat stressful to do creative work under a deadline but it’s fulfilling to do art for a purpose and not just fun. Also I get paid for it which is nice. Every project we do I learn new skills, I’m hoping to get to the point where I can do proper videos as well.

EN: Have you done much video work in the past or would that be a much newer avenue of expression for you? You mentioned doing a bit of video bump work, but not to what degree.

Bambi: Nah. I’ve done little 30/60 second promo bumps. Just saying, I’d like to eventually get to a point where I have developed the skills to do some full on video work. I don’t know if I’ll ever get there, was just speculating on long shot goals.

EN: Have you further investigated the use of Craigslist Missed Connections as the modern preferred artistic medium?

Bambi: [Laughs]! (I should’ve seen that one coming). I still check it out from time to time. And, yes, it’s still entertaining and heart breaking as ever. Some people really bare their souls in the MCs, and some of their soles are creepy as fuck.

EN: [Laughs]. Okay, but in all seriousness: if you could design album art for any artist in the world, who would it be and what sort of concept would you approach them with?

Bambi: Damn, that’s kinda tough one. Kool Keith would be ill, could do some weird illustrative shit, like Animalia, Graeme Base style but with more adult content (obviously). AC/DC would be cool as fuck also, but I’ve got no idea what I’d do on that one

EN: I think we’re at the point of rapping this up now, if there’s anything else you’d like to throw in then now would be the time to do it!

Bambi: I just want to give a huge shout out and thank you to all the people over the past year and a half that have been supportive of me both personally, and with the label…you guys are fucking awesome. To you, Dustin, thank you for offering me this opportunity and for being a gracious and patient interviewer. Finally, to anyone that thinks I was speaking on them in this interview, I probably was. And if that’s an issue for you, I don’t have anyone blocked online, my phone number hasn’t changed and you know where I live..any time motherfucker.

EN: Thank you as well.

Extraordinary Nobodies Top 15 Releases of 2017

by Dustin

2017-09-18

Well, it’s that time of year again. The end. You know what that means? Lots and lots of tip lists. Being that we’re a blog, we like to get in on the fun and do a top list every year too. More specifically, I like to do a top list. Rajin isn’t allowed, I make him post his on Twitter. Anyway, this list is not exclusive to hip-hop (even though that’s where most of our writing tends to lie), because there’s just too much good music coming out every year for that to be fair.

It’s also in descending order, so you’re going to have to scroll all the way to the bottom to find my favorite album of the year (or just look at the article photo, it might give you a clue). Thank you all so much for your support again this year! See you in 2018.


15. Godspeed You Black Emperor – Luciferian Towers
While Luciferian Towers may not be Godspeed’s best work, it’s absolutely still a powerhouse in it’s genre. The Canadian post-rock and drone group assembled an album that sounds hellishly disorienting throughout its entirety. Certainly a recommended listen, especially for those who dig the outfit’s previous releases. Of note was the very obvious jazz influence throughout the release. Favourite Track: “Anthem for No State.”

14. Willie the Kid & Vdon – Deutsche Marks
Taking influence from individuals like Roc Marciano, Willie the Kid and producer Vdon put together an excellent chamber rap EP. With ultra-luxurious lyrics, decadent vocals, and heavily revered sample driven production, Deutsche Marks was colder than a Michigan winter. Favourite Track: “Black Sinatra.”

13. Veiny Hands – Veiny Hands
Veiny Hands self-titled EP proved to be truly punk to the core, while also not being afraid to have fun with music. The vocals, instrumentation, and mixing felt to be deliciously throwback to early years of punk rock. It may not have been the most complex release of the year, but it would be difficult to find many others more genuine. It was a true spark plug album, and serves as an AED for the dying spirit on dreary days. There isn’t much else that can be said, really. Favourite Track: “Dirty Sheets.”

12. Roc Marciano – Rosebudd’s Revenge
Roc Marciano is the godfather of the aforementioned new wave of chamber rap, and Rosebudd’s Revenge demonstrated further why he’s had such a huge impact on the underground hip-hop scene. On this record Roc Marci flawlessly made an over the top criminal lifestyle sound as lavish and regal as running a fortune 500 company. The frigid and distinctly New York production provided the perfect ambient backdrop to his stories of debauchery and dealing. Favourite Track: “Marksmen (feat. Ka).”

11. Moor Hound – Green
Indie-folk singer/songwriter Moor Hound dropped Green near the start of 2017 and it held strong throughout to remain one of the best projects released. A warm, intimate, and emotional example of just how human the folk genre can be. It truly felt like a one on one session with Moor Hound – exactly as it should be – and could provide comfort even through the hardest of losses. He delivered an invitation to drop personal walls, by putting his own baggage on display for everyone to commiserate with. Favourite Track: “See You Around.”

10. Uncommon Nasa – Written at Night
Conceptually, Written at Night may have been the most interesting album to come out this past year. Focused on the thoughts and artistic outpouring experienced in the dead of night, this release was a collaborative effort between Nasa and his contemporaries. Perhaps its most interesting quality is the fact that the songs became more wild the later into “the night” the track list progressed. Great concept, great execution, and to top it all off the album sounded extremely New York. A recommended listen, especially for the fan of Def Jux early sounds. Favourite Track: “Written at Night (feat. Billy Woods & Quelle Chris).”

9. Billy Woods – Known Unkowns
Another album that appeals to the tastes of the Definitive Jux fans, Known Unknowns was about as east coast as it gets. When a rap veteran like Billy Woods teams up with a legendary underground producer like Blockhead (y’know, that guy who helped make Aesop Rock what he is today), there are going to be high expectations. This release met every single on, and then some. Woods’ delivery and writing style may take a bit to get used to for some, but it’s worth the effort. Trust. Favourite Track: “Bush League.”

8. Oddisee – The Iceberg
The latest installment in Oddisee’s discography packed no surprises, yet still ended up being one of the most formidable hip-hop releases this year. Chicken soup for the soul of individuals that grew up on acts like A Tribe Called Quest, The Iceberg was an attention grabbing album. Oddisee never strays that far from his comfort zone, but he put a lot of flair into his unique combination of technical prowess and socially charged lyricism. Any lack of variation in Oddisee’s sound was made up for in spades by his sheer talent. An excellent hip-hop record to the core. Favourite Track: “You Grew Up.”

7. Jonwayne – Rap Album Two
Rap Album Two saw Jonwayne take the listener to his most vulnerable places. Over whimsical melancholic throwback production he would spill his guts time after time, leaving nothing on the table. It was an emotionally challenging listening, but one well worth trying; moreover, this was a huge leap in quality from the rough around the edges Rap Album One. It was a treat to witness Jon seizing the potential he had displayed in flashes up to this point. Favourite Track: “Out of Sight.”

6. Quelle Chris – Being You is Great, I Wish I Could Be You More Often
Perhaps the closest to being a true one of a kind oddity on this list, Being You Is Great, I Wish I Could Be You More Often was one of the strangest releases in 2017. An enigmatic carnival of personality, invited the listener on an acid trip through his entire being. Off-kilter vocals tip-toed their way around astonishingly creative production to create a beautifully confusing record; more importantly however, it may be the first release of Quelle’s that felt entirely true to his enormous personality. Which, in all honesty, only served to make this album more incredible. Favourite Track: “Fascinating Grass (feat. Big Tone, Roc Marciano, and 87).”

5. Walter Gross – Vestige
While Walter Gross’ name may not ring familiar in the memory banks of the majority, he’s been a staple in the do-it-yourself music community for years and has a massive release history to sift through. Yet, through all these releases, Vestige is the grandest. Existing as a disgustingly tantalizing hybrid between hip-hop, post-punk, and noise, this album was a three headed monster hungry for listener’s eardrums. Favourite Track: “Good Morning.”

4. Algiers – The Underside of Power
The Underside of Power was damn near an indescribable listening experience, yet at the same time it was obnoxiously good. Though it took elements from gospel, hip-hop, industrial, and post-punk it truly was its own thing, and is impossible to peg into a genre. Here’s some things you should know though: the vocals are powerful, the instrumentation is powerful, and the songwriting is powerful. Seeing a trend? Kudos to Algiers. Favourite Track: “Walk Like a Panther.”

3. Milo – who told you to think??!!?!?!?!
While 2015’s so the flies don’t come established milo as an artist with the ability to be great, who told you to think??!!?!?!?! elevated him to being one of the most powerful young forces in the hip-hop realm. With verbose lyrics, dreamy beats, interesting flows, and oodles of emotional awareness, this album had just about everything one could want from a milo release; however, it’s all been elevated beyond anything he had release prior. In fact, some aspects of this album bolstered some folks claims that milo may be the MF DOOM of this generation. Favourite Track: “sorcerer.”

2. IDLES – Brutalism
Somewhere between old-school punk and modern post-punk, IDLES’ debut album Brutalism was born. Joe Talbot proved to be an excellent channel of anger and societal disgust, throwing hard hitting lyrics around like steel chair shots to the head. The absurdity of topics covered was often hammered home by repeating lyrics with various vocal inflections, and it worked splendidly. The instrumentation on Brutalism swung between hyperactive blind rage and anxious droning, bringing some interesting spins on conventional punk rock ideas. The record was relentless and offered listeners zero time to breathe. Suffocating had never been such a pleasure. Favourite track: “Mother.”

1. Open Mike Eagle – Brick Body Kids Still Daydream
The definitive album of 2017. Brick Body Kids Still Daydream was the perfect blend of frustrated, confused, cheeky, confident, and poignant. Open Mike Eagle created a masterpiece of solidarity for individuals tied to project homes; moreover, his attempts to inspire pride in poorer upbringings were heartwarmingly genuine. Bolstered with quick witted social analysis and wondrous production, Brick Body Kids Still Daydream was the well deserved album of the year in 2017. Favourite Track: “Brick Body Complex.”

S. Reidy Discusses Until the Darkness Comes, Mental Health Concerns, and Putting in Work

by Dustin

sreidy

Not long ago, we were approached by an artist with an album – a regular occurrence as a music blog. Something was different this time though…the music had a different feel to it. It was genuine, unique, and encapsulated the alternative hip-hop vibe without derivation. After a few weeks (or a month, sorry Shawn) of sitting on the album, it became apparent that a review simply would not be enough. When an up and coming musician drops something as fully realized as Until the Darkness Comes, the most important things that can be said will only come from the artist in question. That’s why we’re here today. To discuss a project, among other things, with an emcee following their own vibe and nobody else’s.

Ladies and gentlemen, S. Reidy:


EN: First and foremost, I’d like to invite you to introduce yourself a little bit. A bit of a self-bio for readers who might be unaware of you as a person. Who is S. Reidy?

S. Reidy: S. Reidy is a rapper from Norman, Oklahoma. He likes to blend hip hop, emo, and indie music, and has opened up for acts like The Palmer Squares, Milo, Open Mike Eagle, and even bands like Walter Etc. He’s also remarkably handsome and has held hands with females on many occasions.

EN: Before we jump into discussing your album, I did want to ask something about coming from Oklahoma. It’s not a state really known for its hip-hop scene. When you were growing up and being exposed to music, what sort of rap was it that you were hearing most predominantly?

S. Reidy: When I was in 7th grade that’s when Soulja Boy was popping off, and man I hated it. I was way more into My Chemical Romance and Senses Fail and stuff like that. But around 10th grade Lil Wayne dropped the song 6 foot 7, and that was the game changer [laughs]. That song was so full of jokes, and personality. Subconsciously I think when I started discovering that, I was destined to become a hip hop artist.

But you know, to answer the question, I was just exposed to all the really popular music. Some dumb study was made recently saying “Rap just took over Rock as the most popular music”, but I honestly feel like it’s been that way for almost 10 years. Especially when that’s what a 16 year old boy from Oklahoma was most exposed to.

EN: You were exposed to popular rap, but do you feel like the other genres you were into really helped shape your sound too? You mentioned My Chemical Romance and Senses Fail, and I know guys like Open Mike Eagle consider their outside influences (They Might Be Giants in his case) to be like, equally as important as the rap they grew up on.

S. Reidy: Oh yeah, absolutely. You can definitely hear a similar brand of white kid angst in my music as those bands [laughs]; however, my sound was really shaped by other genres I listened to once I graduated high school and started listening to more wordy and nerdy artists like Neutral Milk Hotel, Sufjan Stevens, Walter Etc., and stuff like that. Oh, and definitely Pedro the Lion too.

EN: With that in mind, do you feel like coming from somewhere without an established hip-hop sound gives you a bit more of a blank canvas when approaching your own music? Because to me it seems as if you’d be pretty removed from influences and pressures to sound a certain way to fit with the scene.

S. Reidy: It definitely was a strange advantage, but honestly I feel like I’d be making this music no matter where I came from. I’ve always been the kind of guy to do something different just for the sake of balancing out what the norm is.

EN: When I was listening to your album I noticed that – but it also felt very natural to you. Some people seem to really force trying to be “different” just for the sake of it. How important is being genuine in music to you?

S. Reidy: Its everything to me. It’s cliche, but when you take time to really mediate on who you are, and what makes you yourself, everything starts to fall in line, because at the end of it all it’s very clear that you’re the only person who can be you. I didn’t mean to turn the interview into an after school special there… but what are you gonna do [laughs]?

EN: So, when someone gets a chance to listen to Until the Darkness Comes, there’s no playing. It’s just an honest to goodness part of Shawn Reidy being put on display?

S. Reidy: Oh yes. It might not be exactly who I am as person at this very moment, but it’s all feelings, stories and emotions I’ve dealt with the past 2 years or so.

EN: Almost like reflecting on a diary?

S. Reidy: Man… I’ve never thought of it that way, but that is exactly what it is. Someone on YouTube reviewed my album and called it musical meandering, which I though was also super accurate [laughs].

EN: Did you set out with the intention of having the record be an open book about yourself, and experiences, or is that what comes naturally to you when writing lyrics?

S. Reidy: You’re nailing all of these questions right on the head [laughs]. I absolutely do, and that goes into what I was saying earlier about how if you can truly sit down and block out all the worlds expectations of you, and just be yourself, you’ll never have a problem trying to be unique.

EN: Is there a particular aspect of the album that you’re most proud of as an artist?

S. Reidy: Oh dude, by far what I’m most proud of is the distinct sound I was able to come up with on this record. All my other projects sound so scattered as far as a cohesive sound goes. This project is my first that really feels like an album.

EN: Do you feel that being hands on with all stages of the album allowed you to achieve that cohesion? Was that the reason you sought to be the driving force behind all stages of its development, from production to lyrics?

S. Reidy: Oh for sure. I recommend it to everyone. Don’t wait for other people and influences to come and change your sound up. Listen to everything, and engulf yourself in it. Find identity in the music you listen to, and don’t just listen to one or two genres. If you love music, then love music, you know? And then you don’t have to rely on a producer or another musician to help you craft a sound. At least that’s what’s worked for me [laughs].

Just also make sure you get hella opinions from your friends and family, because you don’t wanna get too inside yourself either. Find a happy medium. That’s what I’d recommend.

EN: I’m curious about what your construction process was like for this album. Did you approach creating beats with topical ideas already in mind, or did you produce first, and then figure out what would fit?

S. Reidy: Most of these songs I wrote the best first, and based it on a feeling. After the beat was done I wrote all the lyrics to the song in like 10 minutes or so just to get my rawest response I could from the track, and I would clean it up from there. I’ve been writing songs that way for awhile now.

Guess I kind of just gave away my secret recipe [laughs].

EN: Now, obviously we can’t tell people how to enjoy art – but would you encourage people to approach your album as a full listen rather than just picking and choosing songs to play?

S. Reidy: I don’t know if I would encourage people to, but if you like digging into albums there is more than enough here to really sink your teeth into. If you just wanna hear my popular songs you can do that too though [laughs]. But you’re not gonna get the most out of the album that way.

EN: Popular songs aside, what’s your top three songs off the album, and why?

S. Reidy: Woah, jeez that’s hard…I’m sure this answer would change in thirty minutes too [laughs]. For now though, I wanna say: “Galavanting” because of visceral production and the cool lyrics, “Blackout” just because I feel like it’s uplifting without being corny, and probably “Nobody Nose” because of the guitar and the sweet hook.

EN: Is there a particular lyric you’re most fond of on this record? One that maybe stands out to you as some of your best work.

S. Reidy: That’s also so remarkably hard…when I think about it long enough, I think maybe the line “bagged eyes screaming in your pillows till they drip/ Till you find one day you weren’t crazy to begin with.” I think if you had to describe the album in one line it would be that one.

EN: It’s lyrics like that which made it feel to me like you had a lot to say, particularly in the realm of mental health. We spoke about it a bit beforehand, but just how much does it mean to you to be able to speak freely and candidly about those issues?

S. Reidy: You know I was thinking the other day about how almost every song on the album is about mental health one way or another. Depression is something I had to deal with for two years a couple of years ago. As best as I can I like to open up discussions on mental health and try to help people work out whatever they’re going through, as artfully and carefully as I can.

EN: When including mental health as a topic artistically, do you feel it important to actively attempt to not sound as if you’re glamorizing the “tortured artist” mindset?

I ask because having gone through depression myself, some of the music this newer generation of artists produces can be scary. Like, depression has almost become a brand. But then I see artists like you who approach it more candidly (as mentioned), and I wonder if that’s a conscious effort.

S. Reidy: It’s not conscious as much as it is just a reflection of my reality that depression is really ugly. It’s dark, deep, and numbing, at least it was for me.

As far as acts on the other end tend to sway, I never want to be a person to tell someone how to live their life. This zeitgeist of Instagram depression, is worrisome in the sense that if I had seen more of this stuff when I was depressed, I would have felt very belittled. It’s also dangerous because when people who genuinely are depressed might find some hollow fulfillment in stepping into the more glamorous side of depression, and the lines start to blur between what’s real, and what’s the act you’re putting on.
Once again, I’m not trying to tell anyone how to deal with their depression, everyone does differently. But artist and fans need to start approaching these things with a different attitude, because we’re seeing the repercussions of not taking depression seriously right before our eyes.

EN: I think the Lil Peep death in general exposed that blurred line between reality and act, that you just mentioned. People close to him are saying he was “performing like people in the WWE,” and that it was a character. But at the same time, you would have to be suffering from something mentally to be abusing drugs and thinking it’s okay to put on a depression act. The glitz and glamour that a lot of people put behind it, I think, distracts from taking it seriously. Which is a shame because a lot of people are losing their battles with these issues. And even someone like Eyedea who was very blunt about his mental state and addiction issues ended up succumbing to it.

How do you think musicians as a collective can approach things different to help mental illness be taken more seriously?

S. Reidy: That’s a really really good question, and I don’t believe that there is one answer to it.

I think the best catch all solution you’ll find here, is to make music honest to yourself. Don’t compromise hard to digest topics for music that’s easy to listen to. And do what artists are put on this earth to do. Be vulnerable.

And as listeners we need to actively pay attention to the struggle of these artists and open up discussions on how we can put all of ourselves in a better situation.

EN: Do you think that the vulnerability could also inspire others to open up to their family and friends about issues they’re experiencing? Given that even underground musicians can be huge role models to their fan base. Especially to younger teens and kids.

S. Reidy: One can only hope man… I just do what I can to the best of my ability and hope that it’s enough. Hopefully our best really is good enough when it comes down to it.

EN: Sort of touching on something topical right now, what are your thoughts on the idea (presented by DJBooth originally) that underground hip-hop is dead due to the accessibility of artists online?

S. Reidy: [Laughs]. Oh that thing huh? You know I don’t have much of an opinion about it honestly. I think I understand what they think they were saying, but if you think there’s no difference between an artist like Drake and WIKI I think your opinions are a little misguided.

But I mean, I can’t change that writers definition of mainstream and underground. It is what it is.

EN: Do you ever worry about a music writer stumbling upon your music and misconstruing things you say? Media coverage can be big, but I imagine it could be frustrating if something was read into entirely incorrectly.

S. Reidy: That’s happened to me before in a super minor way. But honestly I’m not that worried about that kind of stuff, I know in my heart that I’m a good person and if anyone every tries to challenge that based on something I’ve said or did, I have no problem confronting that.

It’s a weird hobby folks have now, attempt to twist things any which way just to ruin someone. It’s pretty lame to be honest. It’s almost of a matter of when they’re gonna come for you rather than if. But I’m 100% prepared for that kind of thing, because once again, I know my intentions, and I never mean any form of harm on anyone or anything.

EN: So you try to be genuine not only in your music and candidness with difficult subjects (such as mental illness), but also in your approach to tour music career?

S. Reidy: I mean, I don’t see any better way of approaching it. I truly believe if you’re a good person, you have nothing to hide. And if people try to chastise you for the life you’re living, just continue being the best person you can be, and the universe always has a way of paying you back.

EN: Does it ever get intimidating opening for more established acts than yourself? I imagine it’s an amazing opportunity, but if I was in that position I would be terrified.

S. Reidy: [Laughs]. Honestly, performing is the easy part. The hard part is being backstage with these artists and acting like I don’t want to take a million pictures, ask them about all their albums, and see if they wanna do a mixtape together. I’m a music dork just as much as I am an artist, so the scary part when performing with these acts is attempting to not look like a dingus in front of my heroes…

EN: Do you ever get the opportunity to soak up any wisdom from them during the process though?

S. Reidy: I mean… I started writing this album after me and milo had an hour long conversation in my garage [laughs]. I wish I could record all the conversation I’ve had with these other artists, because when I talk to them I’m always thinking “these are the words of a person with the mindset it takes to get where they are.”

EN: Do you find that these established guys have a different outlook on things than your average indie emcee who hasn’t quite figured themselves out yet? As in, I guess I mean… Do they speak about things differently?

S. Reidy: I don’t think it’s a different outlook, I think it’s just knowledge.

What I’m learning more about the people I look up to the closer I get to them, is the fact that these are people who have made a thousands of mistakes. But mistakes don’t discourage them, and they’re super happy to make them, because all that means is that they know exactly how not to do what they’re wanting to do. The confidence in yourself to remember what it was that got you where you are. That’s the kind of wisdom I’m working towards.

EN: Say a young artist approached you tomorrow, and they were extremely frustrated with their own music due to making mistakes and not hitting the mark they’ve set for themselves – what sort of advice would you pass on to them?

S. Reidy: [Laughs]… Dude unfortunately I’m terrible at motivational speeches.

My whole thing is, do you love music? Can you not picture your life without creating? Then you don’t need motivation from me. I hate when people tell me they want to make music but they never feel inspired. Like, dude, you’re never inspired? Nothing inspires you? You need to either broaden your horizons, or just admit that music isn’t what you’re supposed to do. I know that sounds harsh [laughs], but being an artist is work, if you aren’t willing to clock in to your job, then quit. You know?

EN: Plus like…do you even think inspiration is necessary to get started in art? For me anyway, in my music production side project, there are times when I’m totally not inspired, but I can still sit any play around with things and try something new. Then when I’m feeling it emotionally, I can really sit down and apply those things. There’s something to be said for just messing around and learning too, don’t you agree?

S. Reidy: Or just listening to different guitar tones for an hour and seeing which one you like more, or trying ever single drum groove you can think of that might compliment the melody of the song. Studio time and creative space isn’t always fireworks and magic, and I think that’s a big misconception among new artists.

EN: Do you think they only see end results from their favorite artists and maybe assume that just happens, without considering all the foundations that are laid first?

S. Reidy: That’s absolutely the problem, or people are just to caught up in wanting to be rockstars that’s they don’t understand that 80% of it isn’t even fun. Not that work isn’t fun, but you have to love it.

EN: Word. I think that’s a valuable lesson that everyone making music needs to learn eventually. So, I do gotta ask, what’s next for you now that you’ve released this album? What steps do you take to keep advancing your music career?

S. Reidy: I’m gonna just keep recording music, videos, do tour, interviews, tweet Anthony Fantano 43 times a day to review my album, and do the DIY thing with it man.

An Open Letter to DJ Booth & DJ Z: Underground Hip-Hop is Not Dead

by Dustin

Canada1

On November 27th, 2017, DJ Booth pronounced underground hip-hop dead. DJ Z regretfully informed us that due to the ease of accessing new artists – due in part to streaming services becoming dominant methods of music consumption – that “the underground is the new mainstream.” Of course, he supported this statement with many examples including (and entirely limited to) the fact that Xavier Wulf has a couple tens of thousands of followers on a few social and music media platforms. This article, for lack of a better description, misconstrued the entire of the underground. Below is an open letter that I have written to the publication and author. They may never read it, but these are things that need to be said.

To DJ Z and anyone from DJ Booth,

I’m going to start by explaining to you what “underground” actually is, since you seem to have a gross misunderstanding of the term. It is not a sub-genre label like “trap” or “conscious hip-hop” as you stated in your article. In fact, the artists that make up the underground span a wide variety of styles in the realm of hip-hop; I would be so bold as to say that every single corner of hip-hop has underground artists. You know why? Because an underground artist is simply an artist that exists outside of the mainstream consciousness in music. Claiming that somebody is now in the mainstream because they’ve got a hundred thousand followers on Twitter is absolutely ludicrous. They’re doing quite well in the context of underground music, but they’re nowhere near the mainstream in terms of popularity. No amount of accessibility to music changes that fact.

Let’s look at a bit of a hypothetical situation to make this point more clear. If you went out and took a survey of the general population, most will know of artists like Eminem, Jay-Z, Drake, Future, Lil Wayne, and Kendrick Lamar regardless of whether or not they actually listen to their music. These artists have firmly rooted themselves in the mainstream consciousness. Now, go out and ask the general population who Xavier Wulf is, and I think you’ll be shocked to find out that barely anybody has a clue. In fact, at the time of writing this article, Xavier Wulf does not even have a page on Wikipedia. Yet, you’re calling him mainstream and using him as proof that underground hip-hop is dead? How does one make that jump logically? That’s not a shot at him either, he’s got a large cult following, but he’s absolutely still an underground artist in the scope of hip-hop and music as a whole. You would have to be brain dead to claim otherwise.

Do you want to know why Xavier Wulf – and seemingly the entire hip-hop community – was upset at the claim that underground music doesn’t exist anymore? Because you are discrediting the insane amount of work he, and other musicians of similar stature, put into their careers in order to even have a career in the first place. It’s not easy to make it in music, and writing as if the internet has made it a cakewalk is of the utmost disrespect. Artists like him, Open Mike Eagle, Busdriver, Billy Woods, Uncommon Nasa, clipping., Fatt Father, Aesop Rock, and hundreds of others don’t have well established careers because the internet made them mainstream. They have impressive careers because they work their asses off in the underground to maintain their place; moreover, you’ve also spat in the faces of thousands of dedicated artists who haven’t even established their footing within the underground yet. But by all means, tell a rapper like MCrv, or label owner like Michael at FilthyBroke Recordings that the underground is the new mainstream. They will turn around and laugh directly at you, because it is very nearly the dumbest statement you could make.

The underground is alive, and it’s thriving. Publications like ourselves and many others being allowed to exist and work with so many beautiful artists globally is a testament to this. Stop disrespecting the genre that you eat off of for attention with sensationalized articles with zero supporting evidence. You are letting down hip-hop, and music journalism. The underground community will still be thriving in every single genre of music long after your publication, and mine, are nothing but a fading memory in the distance. You’re not an artist, DJ Z, maybe stop making claims about the world that they exist in, and start taking the time to listen to what they have to say about “the underground.” You might learn something if you open your ears and shut your mouth, just for a second.

Sincerely,
Dustin
Extraordinary Nobodies