Think Piece: Logic’s “1-800-273-8255” is More Damaging Than Empowering

by Dustin

logic560

I will be upfront and admit that I am not a Logic fan. I really couldn’t care less about most things that Logic releases. He doesn’t make a style of music I care for, but he’s got some talent and he’s usually harmless enough that he’s not worth bashing either; however, there’s something about one of his new songs that very genuinely seemed….worthy of discussion, to put it nicely. The song is “1-800-273-8255”. If the song title looks familiar to you at all, that’s because it’s the number of the Suicide Prevention Lifeline. Unsurprisingly, that’s also where the song sits topically. Logic on this song made an effort as a celebrity figure to “reach out” to fans through his music, and encourage them to get help with their problems. Now, in theory, that would actually be quite an admirable thing to do. Suicide is a very serious issue, and many are afraid to reach out when they’re grappling with the desire to kill themselves. I was once one of these people, and I’ll be the first to admit that music was one of the key things that helped me pull myself out of the hole and get professional help. Hearing an artist be open about their mental issues on record can be an incredibly powerful experience, particularly if they’re one that you admire.

However, something is severely off with the execution of “1-800-273-8255”. Logic has all the desire in the world to help people on this song, but none of the understanding of what mental illness or suicide actually are. To start, the song is mostly centered around a half-assed concept about an individual calling the suicide prevention line. To be blunt, it horrendously twists the issue to be something smaller than it is. Logic’s analysis of feeling suicidal includes: general sadness, occasional loneliness, and wishing friends would text more often. Basically, “1-800-273-8255” flagrantly tip-toes around the idea of suicide as if Logic was afraid to actually talk about it….when it’s supposed to be a song about not being afraid to reach out for help. Right.

Because of this “1-800-273-8255” felt like an artist abusing the social issue of suicide, stripping it down to it’s simplest (and often flat out incorrect) components, and then casting a wide net so that as many people as possible could relate to it. This is unfortunate, as it presented the opportunity for a major artist to speak on something that close to ten million individuals in the United States alone are faced with on a daily basis. Instead, he spoke about things that seven and a half billion people can relate to, and stamped “suicide” on it as a topic in order to appear as if he cares.

In spite of this, you’d think Logic would have been able to redeem himself on the portions of the song encouraging people to fight through their problems…yet he managed to turn that into a total disaster as well. Telling people that they shouldn’t kill themselves because they might experience “the warm embrace of a lover’s chest” (not verbatim, but close enough) in the Alissa Cara segment of the song is an absolute joke. Logic, people who are in a critical enough mental state that they want to end their own lives do not give a single fuck about the fact that they might one day find someone to share life with. You could have taken a moment to congratulate them on making it this long while coping with intense internal conflict, you could have discussed there being no shame in admitting you need someone else’s help, but instead you chose to trivialize the issue again in a way that makes your single just that much cuter. Well done.

It gets worse.

In a moment of complete and total blissful ignorance Logic drops the lyric, “what’s the day without a little night?” Allow that to sink in for a moment, and then consider the fact that Logic is straight up telling people that if they didn’t experience urges to end their own lives, the good times wouldn’t be as enjoyable. Telling a suicidal individual that they wouldn’t enjoy other parts of life as much if they didn’t have to suffer through endless, suffocating thoughts of self-murder is not tasteful. It isn’t raising awareness either. It is attempting to turn a severe mental issue that takes over your entire being into a positive. You can’t do that. There is absolutely no positive attached to feeling suicidal. Suicidal urges aren’t cute, they’re not glamorous, and you’re not helping raise awareness to how crippling they can be by putting a positive spin on it. You could ignore the rest of the song entirely, but this one line of backhanded suicide ideation is enough to get a sense for how ignorantly grounded “1-800-273-8255” is throughout. And once again, the only really function it serves is a cute little quotable to aid the single factor.

The single factor of a song about suicide.

Suicide and mental illnesses are not the same as feeling lonely all the time. They’re not the same as feeling awkward and out of place. They’re not the same as feeling like nobody wants you. These can be smaller parts of the bigger picture, sure, but “1-800-273-8255” chooses to only focus on them. Logic, you’ve turned suicide prevention into an anthem of easily relatable trite that everyone (particularly teenagers) can relate with. You’ve successfully made a very serious, heart wrenching problem into something quickly digestible and consumable as a single on a major label. Congratulations, you’ve successfully exploited and marginalized suicide for a profit.

Ultimately, this song is a poster-child for one of the biggest issues with how we treat mental illness: lack of education. We do need to be open about these sorts of problems, but we need to approach them with a maturity that this single completely lacks. If you really want to make a difference, do some research. Understand the signs of someone who might be harming themselves, or might be planning to in the future. Be willing to listen when someone opens up to you, and don’t judge them if they opt to receive mental help. If this song did happen to help you, that’s great, but overall we need to approach these things more tactfully. We need to tackle them in a way that doesn’t make those affected by suicide and depression feel like their issues are simple to get through. While Logic doesn’t seem to lack compassion, he clearly lacks understanding, and that is just as damaging.


If you or anyone you know is dealing with depression, thoughts of suicide, or other mental illness, here are some resources that may be of use:

http://mindcheck.ca/

https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/

https://therapists.psychologytoday.com/rms

http://healthymindscanada.ca/resources/

Qualchan’s Mixtape: 2017 Freshman Wishlist Edition

by Qualchan (intro by Dustin)

crazyeyes

In our ever growing quest to bring you new and interesting content, we’ve expanded our horizons and enlisted a wonderful artist from Seattle to bring you a guest curated playlist of up-and-coming hip-hop talents. That artist is Qualchan. Qualchan is a unique personality who will talk your ear off about alternative music, ignorant music, the Anticon era, and is finally tuned with various scenes in hip-hop.

With that in mind, who else could even put together the perfect “XXL Freshmen 2017” (come at us XXL, this is ours now) wish-list-slash-play-list? No one. It’s the perfect choice. We’ll let the playlist do most of the talking, but Qualchan has also hit us with a little summary of his thoughts on the artists he’s included in the mix.

Kick back and enjoy.


First of all, the playlist can be found here. Now, onto the rest.

Qualchan. Seattle. I’ve been into hip-hop since ’92. I’ve also been into drugs and DJ Screw since ’03. And I’m bringing you people to watch out for in 2017.

Sauce Walka and Sancho Saucy are my two favorite rappers right now. Coming out of Houston, Texas they bring a sense of excitement and real danger that no other rapper has right now. They are really in the streets. Everyone associated with their sauce factory label are great, especially Sosamann. He signed to Taylor Gang a while back, and had a verse from 21 savage on his latest song. I’m sure he’s going to be doing really big things, and he and The Twinz are going to drip across the charts.

Go Yayo from Fort Worth, Texas is another guy on the come up in 2017. he recently signed to Soulja Boy’s SODMG… So expect to see him punch Chris Brown on Instagram sometime soon.

Famous Dex outta Chicago has been on for a minute, but I think his best period as an artist was the summer and fall of 2015. It was a tough choice between “Back Now” (on the playlist) and “Shooters,” but Famous Irv (just Irv now) brings the heat. Be on the lookout for bro to blow up this year.

Warhol.ss is also from Chicago. He brings an upbeat and wild energy, and the visuals for “Speed Racer” are great! Cole Bennette really brought his “A” game to this one. It’s such a great song.

Thouxanbanfauni is the only Atlanta rapper I really fuck with right now. “Who U Testin” goes in.

Usually by time I get to Ski Mask the Slump God, the weed and ‘tussin have kicked in. “Gone” is the perfect song to get lost in. He & smokepurpp are both from Florida and are really blowing up right now. ‘purpp’s “Ski Mask” gets me super hype before work.

If none of these guys make it onto XXL’s Freshman list, then I am done.

Apu Rambles: The Wonder of Rap Groups (and Their Possible Shortcomings)

by Apu

wu

I’ve always found rap groups to be interesting. And with that I’ve just won the award for the most generic opening sentence in a written piece for January 2017.

Music made by a good group (keyword: GOOD) can be the coolest thing you hear all day. It’s crazy hearing vastly different personalities colluding, bringing different perspectives, styles, and presences to a track while completely complimenting each other. Many times it can be more exciting to listen to a group than a solo artist; the constant change in performers keeps things fresh in a way that may not always happen when listening to a solo artist. You don’t know which group members will be on which track, or what each member will bring to the table. There’s a support system in the form of friendly competition, where each member pushes the other to go above and beyond, leading to some rappers having the best verses of their careers on group songs. And group music is different than posse cuts. While posse cuts can bring together huge rappers to make great songs, the vast majority of the time, there’s not nearly the sort of unity and fluidity that there is on group music when the mic is passed.

It’s a simple fact. Hip hop would not be where it is now if it were not for rappers forming crews and making music together. Whether it be the earlier years with Sugarhill Gang introducing hip hop to wider audiences, to Run D.M.C., the Beastie Boys, Public Enemy, NWA, Geto Boys, the Wu-Tang Clan, Onyx, Westside Connection… The list goes on and on. They were a staple of hip hop in the golden era, and remained to be a driving force in hip hop well into the ‘00s.

I don’t know why they were so big in the formative years, especially compared to now; maybe having a crew onstage helped hype crowds up while performing more effectively than having just a single rapper, leading to better shows and subsequently wider acclaim and greater success. Perhaps that’s why rappers still go up onstage with hypemen, even when they may not need one to help out when the main performer needs to take a breath. Whatever it may have been, there’s nothing quite like seeing a group together. There’s also nothing quite like seeing a group implode after the first album or two because of success changing the approach to making music, causing chemistry to fade and beef to ensue.

I personally think that the biggest contributing factor to a group’s greatness is chemistry. There has to be a foundation for the sound that a group will use, especially when members develop themselves as solo artists with sounds that deviate from the group sound. Take, for example, the Wu-Tang Clan. RZA created that dark, soul-sampled boom bap with Enter The Wu-Tang. However, given that Wu always meant to branch out to become solo artists, the following solo albums each had a different tone from the debut group album. Tical was more bassy and smoked out, Return To The 36 Chambers was muddier and more twisted, Only Built 4 Cuban Linx was more piano and string-driven resulting in a Mafioso tone, and Ironman was more driven by R&B and lighter soul samples. Aside from Liquid Swords, which was fairly similar in tone to Enter The Wu-Tang, they all had their own sound to them to reflect the personality and charisma of each member outside of the group.

However, when they reunited to do Wu-Tang Forever, they went back to a similar style as Enter The Wu-Tang: heavy soul samples and more classic boom bap. Sure, the sound had advanced, but the overall tonality still screamed Wu-Tang as a whole, as opposed to more Raekwon or Ghostface. They had the production base offered by RZA, which meant that other producers like 4th Disciple or Inspectah Deck had a blueprint to follow.

Of course, having that base meant that the subsequent group albums (and even solo albums) were prone to the flaws that came with the failures of RZA. Being that RZA was the de facto leader of the group, him losing beats in a flood ended up creating issues for Wu as time went on. After that, RZA’s decision to change his production style with his Bobby Digital persona made The W and Iron Flag sound off-putting. By the time A New Tomorrow came around, RZA sounded totally uninterested in making music; it seemed he would rather score movies and help Cilvaringz be a cunt.

But he was still the leader of the group, so they had to follow him.

It was a similar situation with D-12. D-12 has two members who produce: Mr. Porter and Eminem. While Proof was the spiritual leader of D-12, as well as musical when they were doing mixtapes and features, Eminem clearly led the group on the albums. Devil’s Night sounded almost like it could have been called The Marshall Mathers LP 1.5: Introducing D12. That’s not nearly even close to being a bad thing – that album is a classic to me. However, it did end up being a bad thing for them on D-12 World. Most of the songs that Eminem produced did not follow a D-12 kind of style. They were like less-gangster G-Unit beats, much like Encore’s production. The only possible exceptions to this are My Band, Bitch, and Come On In (which ended up sounding more like a Mr. Porter beat). Mr. Porter’s beats were perfectly suited to D-12, and showed a potential evolution in their sound from Devil’s Night that could have been very cool, as it was grimy but sillier and jazzier at the same time. Em’s leadership, however, prevented that sound from being explored more aside from songs that Em wasn’t even on. Had he passed leadership to Mr. Porter, the album may have sounded more like Barbershop and I’ll Be Damned and less like Leave Dat Boy Alone and Get My Gun.

While pure democracy in a group would likely lead to no progress at all, one person can’t be the leader for the entirety of the group’s albums. There needs to be a constant passing of the baton. Otherwise the leader may end up running the group into the ground. It seems RZA has finally understood that, because he’s given Ghost the wheel for the next Wu album. Given Ghost’s artistic style with live jazz instrumentation on fairly recent albums like Twelve Reasons To Die I & II, Sour Soul, and 36 Seasons, it will likely be a breath of fresh air for the group, rather than the aimless plodding of RZA’s production on A Better Tomorrow. I’m personally expecting it to be their best in 2 decades.

Groups without chemistry just don’t work. I already know I’m gonna get shitted on by underground hip hop fans, but I personally don’t think Slaughterhouse is demonstrates good group dynamic. Each member is a very talented emcee in his own right (although fuck Joe Budden for life for beating a woman into having a miscarriage). However, there is no feeling of unity among them. Every song that they do sounds like a posse cut. As I stated above, a posse cut can be cool, but if you’re gonna be a group, you have to sound like a unit. It’s weird too, because Joe Budden and Joell Ortiz do back and forth every once in awhile, but they don’t sound natural doing it. Nearly every song either boils down to a cypher that may or may not have a hook in it or an emotional track with each member just saying their piece and not trying to tie themselves into the rest of the group; oftentimes the verses may only share emotion in common and can be about completely different things which throws off the mood of the track. A group needs to have chemistry, otherwise it just doesn’t work. Unfortunately, Slaughterhouse doesn’t have much of it.
Slaughterhouse are also too similar to each other, which oddly doesn’t help their chemistry.

Another part of what makes some groups successful is the roles that members play. When Slaughterhouse do music together, everyone does essentially the same thing in a song. There’s no variety. You need some rappers to be the tough talkers, the more grounded members, and what is quite possibly the most important role: the clown. It can get tiresome to hear so many rappers talking about similar street subjects all the time; you need an ODB to your Wu-Tang Clan or a Sean Price to your Boot Camp Clik (RIP to both) to add some comic relief. The role that guys like them played helped to distinguish the groups from most other hardcore underground groups.

Everyone wants to be the toughest or most lyrical, and people get lost in the mix of everyone else trying to do that. When you put together a group of people trying to be tough or lyrical, that effect may get even worse. Throw a clown in there (who still has skills, mind you), and suddenly your presence becomes more impactful. You have someone who can still spit with the rest of the members, but is spewing clever, witty one-liners and creating a different reaction than the listeners get from listening to the other members. But it’s a fine line; you have too many members who clown around and you’re viewed as a comedy rap group, nothing to take seriously. So a group needs to be diverse, but still maintain similarities enough to where there’s still chemistry.

Groups are wonderful for hip hop. They’re a healthy mix of competition and brotherhood. I wish there were more groups out now; you’d think that with the increased usage of the internet in hip hop music that there would be more groups linking up from city to city, but for some reason that’s not the case. These days it’s always a wonderful treat to see a group either reunite, especially if they haven’t done music in years. With things in hip hop seeming to go back to the way they were (that’s a topic for another time, I don’t feel like opening that can of worms for the basement-dwelling stuck-in-the-90s hip hop nerds to feast on), perhaps we’ll see more groups being formed.

Exploring Other Genres: Sunbather – Braneworld

by Dustin

braneworld

8.25/10

A while back we started a segment called “Exploring Other Genres” to offer fellow hip-hop fans an accessible outlet to a variety of interesting music. More relevant to the here-and-now, our first piece in this segment was on Poor English’s self-titled debut EP. The feedback we received was overwhelmingly positive, and multiple people asked if we could recommend something similar. By coincidence a few weeks later, Poor English’s drummer Tyler reached out to us about another group that his band-mate Joe is involved in: Sunbather. Sunbather just so happened to have a thirty-something minute album out called Braneworld. Featuring sound distinctly different yet similar to the wondrous pop-punk tunes of Poor English, we were certainly interested in giving it a spin.

We fell in love with the album. In fact, it has been on regular rotation ever since.

As mentioned, there are similarities between the Poor English project and Sunbather’s sound on Braneworld; however, to not approach this album as a brilliant standalone work would be doing it a disservice. Sunbather’s sound is a little more punchy, marginally heavier, and a touch more dense. The way instrumentation is layered on this album is really gorgeous. The guitar work weaves in and out of riffs and licks, dipping between the hyperactive and laid-back in one swift motion. The rhythms are delicious, and provide a powerful driving force behind the leads. Sunbather create a “wall of sound” within their music at times. It feel bigger than it probably should, but it is excellent.

Every moment on Braneworld flows into the next seamlessly. The change-ups within songs are frequent enough to keep one guessing, but smooth enough that they’re nearly easy to miss. At the macro level, each track moves into the next without hiccup. At no time did it feel like the song progression was off. Given that album arrangement is one of the things it seems many artists fail at, it was refreshing to listen to one so skillfully laid out.

To put it more simply the transitions are super slick, period. End of discussion.

Though the album is distinctly rock, its quite interesting to see the band show their influences in other genres at time. For example, the song “Daily Dreams” has a distinct folk spin to it, and “Knucklehead” featured some synthetic sounds similar to that of the underground electronic punk movement. These forays into other musical realms broke up the album nicely, yet somehow sound cohesive in the overall scope of Braneworld. Perhaps more importantly, these moments are used quite sparingly. The band doesn’t become predictably experimental throughout the course of the album. It feels more like an adventurous treat at times, rather than part of the albums overall atmosphere.

It should be mentioned that the album atmosphere is, in fact, really well established. There’s something particular about it that just makes everything work together in harmony. To take a bit of a writers cop-out in lieu of better descriptive words: you will instantaneously understand upon listening.

If you’re still not convinced, look at it this way: Braneworld is rock-n-roll for the working class. In times of relative despair internationally, their music feels soothing. Sunbather brings a sense of wonderment to a rock scene that can, at times, feel way too cookie-cutter. Sunbather’s music also radiates a powerful sense of emotional awareness. The happy songs will lift you, and the more sad songs will offer musical solidarity. The vocals and instrumentation play together in a way that makes it nearly impossible to avoid being smitten with their tunes. It’s honest music, and every song feels heartfelt. There’s no attempt to achieve a level of robotic perfection, and the music is better for it.

Lightning Pill Discusses Experimental Music, Helping the Community Feel Heard, LGBT-music relations, and More

by Dustin

lp

Sometimes you stumble across an artist that just has an aura about them that instantly signals they work on another level compared to most. Maybe they’re involved in social causes, maybe they’re workaholics, maybe they’re incredibly mentally dedicated to their craft and community, or maybe they’re all of the above. Such is this case with Lightning Pill. From experimental music crafting, to making sure others don’t feel left out in the cold, Lightning Pill is a lot of things to the do-it-yourself music community. We’ve been aware of his work for a while, and thanks to an introduction by IHeartNoise we’re able to provide an insight into the mind of one of the hardest working individuals you’ll ever have the chance to know.

Lightning Pill can be found on his Twitter, and website. His blog (mentioned in the interview) can be found at Revenge of the Persona Non Grata, and also at its official Twitter. Be sure to give him a look after you’ve finished reading this interview!

EN: First and foremost man, thank you for joining us today. It’s an absolute pleasure. I’ve interviewed quite a few musicians, and I always love working with those who are socially conscious.

That being said, for those reading who may be unaware of you, how would you describe yourself?

Lightning Pill: I am a singer-songwriter who mainly plays keyboard. I take on multiple genres, all which fit underneath bedroom pop, antifolk, etc. I also make beats every now and then. On my downtime, I blog for Afropunk, IHeartNoise and Revenge of the Persona Non Grata, a blog I began focusing on avant-garde/DIY Hip hop, r&b, jazz and electronica.

I also write poems every now and then, but nowadays, poetry is molded into song.

EN: Did being a DIY artist yourself inspire an ambition to write about those forging a similar path musically?

Lightning Pill: Yes. Very much so. I’ve been in the music-making game for years, and found a correlation between most great DIY artists. They want Pitchfork and SPIN coverage and find themselves ignored despite putting out great work. I literally spent all year finding new music through Twitter recommendations and affiliations because, I wasn’t exactly messing with the recommendations of bigger labels. I understood the need to be on bigger platforms, but you don’t need to do that with blogs such as Afropunk helping.

The second album I put out to Afropunk as a DIY artist was Humanbeyondrepair, an album about having Asperger’s Syndrome. I didn’t have the money to tour, didn’t have a huge following, no labels, and so on, but they covered me. I wished more blogs would do that rather than creaming over the same bands they will slag on later.

Twitter is chock full of original musicians and small labels who want to spread their name with no real help from larger platforms. Since they are what I am, I can’t in good conscience make them feel like no one is paying attention. So, I started RPNG. Really it started as a blog for avant-hop, since there wasn’t a huge niche blog for that. Then it expanded into me giving love to smaller acts trying to get on 2DopeBoyz, Pitchfork or Consequence of Sound.

EN: That’s very similar to the reasoning why I started Extraordinary Nobodies. I really respect that at a personal level, but I have to ask: why do you think it is that major outlets turn their ears off to experimental and DIY music?

Lightning Pill: It feels related as why major labels sign experimental acts: if you are engaging, accessible and at least sound like you have a chance in hell in the mainstream or something, then you are “in”. That’s bullshit too, considering that there are some great acts that do have a fighting chance at connecting with the general public.

It feels like going to high school and the “cool kids” either ignore or bully the weirder kids, only to find that they envy them. Acts like SassyBlack (formerly of THEESatisfaction), and even AJ Suede, can’t be found on 2DopeBoyz even though the music has a chance of reaching the public. Only one clipping. song can be found there, too. People are likely to turn a blind eye to artists that don’t have a huge following, and you get a huge following through either celebrity-based nepotism or “accessibility” within the industry.

Perfect examples are rappers and singers within Deathbomb Arc, one of my favorite labels. Excluding clipping., rappers like Signor Benedick, Hareld and They Hate Change don’t get the attention they worked for in their fields despite being really original and talented artists. They deserve to be known in the same corner as Death Grips and Kendrick Lamar. I had to take matters into my hands and write about They Hate Change and True Neutral Crew in Afropunk. Their coverage would probably still be fairly minuscule, if they hadn’t known that I write for them.

EN: Are there any other acts out there that you especially think aren’t getting the attention they deserve, or is it basically the DIY/experimental community as a whole that’s being ignored?

Lightning Pill: It’s a funny thing. If they do get coverage, TheNeedleDrop and Pitchfork are the ones doing it. Still though, a good amounts of the DIY community pretty much live by their wits. Artists like DijahSB got into music and despite how great her music is I don’t even see Aftopunk covering her, and I sent in a blog about her Blue album.

EN: So, running your own publication very much came out of a place of frustration.

Lightning Pill: It started as a way to fill in the niche that 2DopeBoyz and XXL didn’t, couldn’t or won’t touch. It snowballed into a frustration that I shared with artists over making great music but not getting attention despite how “great” they are. This inspired me to take the reins, and I encourage many others to use the blog as a way to give back to your community. The moment I started the blog, I had plenty of artists say they loved my writing. JPEGMAFIA even said my kind of journalism and research rivals that of empty journalists and music critics today, which made me happy. I’ve even had plenty of people approach me to write something for them. I had no right to turn them down because I was, and still am, them.

Type in THEESatisfaction, milo, F. Virtue, Cakes Da Killa, or clipping. in 2DopeBoyz and watch it come up with nothing. The only real explanation I can find is that their blog mostly focuses on artists who aren’t too experimental, as to gain a huge following.

While I am here, I do want to shout out one slightly well-known blog that does what I do: UGSMAG. They cover nothing but that underground shit. Some avantgarde stuff, too. That blog, and the dearly-missed Potholes in My Blog, inspired me to write the blogs I do.

EN: Do you find it difficult to balance your personal life, music, and working on other projects such as journalism?

Lightning Pill: Only because when I get into these projects, I REALLY get into it. When I write about projects, I listen to 5 albums a day. After that, I find myself wondering when I’ll have enough juice and focus to put into my music. When I do music, I get really into it too. It gets hard because I don’t do any of this to merely half-ass it. I’m in it for the long haul… Even if I don’t get paid for doing any of it. That’s how committed I am to what I do. As for my personal life, people know good and well I don’t sit on my bed and do nothing. I’m always working on something to occupy my time. Whether it be hobby or not, I do it because I find fulfillment in it.

Admittedly, it does get hard making sure that when I am head deep in one thing, I don’t neglect the other.

EN: Throughout the year I saw you getting a lot of love from various outlets and labels, such as Deathbomb Arc for instance. How much does it mean to you to know that what you’re doing is being noticed?

Lightning Pill: Man, it means a lot! Imagine years of making music only to find out that I’ve got fans purely from being deep into the underground. This wouldn’t have been possible without Ilya of IHeartNoise, who heard me and has been hyping up my instrumental works, mostly. But since I started pushing everything, not one person has told me my stuff sucked. One dude did, but that was on a couple of fun bars over Jonwayne beats that got a lot of attention, and got me followed by Jonwayne himself.

The Deathbomb Arc thing had me taken aback because I’m a big supporter of the label. The reason being that Deathbomb is one of few labels that aim to surprise you with every artist they add to their roster. So when they asked me about doing a song for them, I was like “what?!”.

I have fans in Ceschi, Dionne Sheree, Ilya, They Hate Change, and plenty in the DIY/experimental (mostly hip hop) community. I feel blessed and it makes me want to work hard to see to it my next few albums and mixtapes don’t suck.

EN: On that note, do you think more artists need to take a second to step back and enjoy the small scale love they receive, rather than desperately trying to “make it big”?

Lightning Pill: In a short answer, yes.

In a long answer, I understand why people want to get big. They do it for money, for attention, to reach people and change the landscape of music. Everyone has reasons as to why they want to get famous. But even if I don’t ever reach the stratosphere, it’s still heartening to know I have a cult following. I do music everyday and never get paid, but it makes me want to keep going knowing people are waiting for my next work.

I was one of those people who wanted to do music to get paid for it. But the more I made music the more I slowly accepted I may never get paid, or that I may never get known to the level that, say, Atmosphere is. But even having a little fans may give me a new perspective. Perhaps making music for them will lead to them spreading the word and finding out that my music can get better and reach people who aren’t just blindly following me. Some people will become Jay-Z and Lil Wayne and some people will be Atmosphere and Run the Jewels. Either way, just knowing one person loves your work is heartening. All one has to do is keep going and keep making your best stuff, keep trying to one up yourself and watch people slowly reveal that they have been a fan of yours.

I think in time I understand why people say that knowing people love your work and are waiting for the next one is better than money. Often times, if people really love and support you, they’ll pay for it when it is for sale. I’d be just fine being the next Ariel Pink, Dam-Funk or Captain Beefheart. People should take any blessing that may come their way in the form of true love and appreciation for what you do.

EN: I noticed on the RPNG Twitter, you note things such as being a LGBT friendly site. I think that is awesome, and I wanted to ask how important it is to you to be open in your support of such causes?

Lightning Pill: Very much so, seeing as how there are a lot of gay rappers in existence. One of the first I found back in high school was Deep Dickollective, helmed by Juba Kalamka. Their music is basically conscious hip hop from a gay man’s point of view. Since then, I found rappers like Melange Lavonne, God-Des and She, and more recently Cakes Da Killa, LE1F, Mykki Blanco, Abdu Ali and F. Virtue. All of them are getting shunned from larger hip hop for being gay, and hardly ever pushed towards a straight demographic. They are part of the reason why I stretched my blog towards people who just plain can’t get bigger attention over stupid shit.

I read in SPIN Magazine that Juba heard some sites pull the “there’s nothing we can do” stance for making gay music more mainstream… To this day, the only gay rapper the world can even mention is Frank Ocean, who only spit a few bars on a few songs.

It’s very important to notice all dimensions of music in general. People need to stop being brand new about rappers just because it doesn’t fit their universe. I just told Cakes Da Killa, “people would rather hear some mediocre ass dude spit bars than to hear you rap. That should change!” That stemmed from me praising clipping. for having Cakes Da Killa on a track, and working with an actual gay rapper. I couldn’t give less of a single fuck about a person’s sexuality. If you got true bars and can stand out musically, fuck everything else.

I cover LGBT rappers, Christian rappers, anyone who can bring something truly fresh to the table.

EN: Do you think that someone like Fly Young Red, who basically turned the gay rap scene into a meme with “boy pussy” did more harm than good for the LGBT community in hip-hop?

Lightning Pill: Eh… I think we should be past the whole “harm and good thing”, seeing as how there are multiple dimensions of anything LGBT. Where there are people who make gay people look hypersexual, there are people putting a good name on it. It’s the same as black people showing they have respect and intelligence among ratchets thinking they are acting white.

Of course it is doing “harm” as it is showing gay people as hypersexual, rather than people who have more to talk about than just that. You know? But, the same can be said about demands that Nicki Minaj and Rhianna be less aggressive with sexuality in their music. They are doing nothing more than being a mirror for the culture we live in. The only difference is straight people make AIDS and femininity jokes, while giving or getting AIDS from the next girl with a fat ass and a pretty face. Where there is a Fly Young Red, there’s a Cupcakke or multiple amounts of dudes talking about running a train on your girlfriend.

That’s just the way it is, but the ones who have yet to see it that way are straight people.

EN: That’s a great approach to conceptualizing it. My cousin (who is big into LGBT activism, with her girlfriend) has already remained conflicted on people like Fly Young Red, so I thought it’d be interesting to get another perspective.

I’m also very curious on your thoughts about hyper-masculinity in hip-hop. I interviewed Kash Jordan last year, and he really wanted to see hip-hop move away from the trend of hyper-masculine music. Do you share that sort of view?

Lightning Pill: Yeah, and as fast as possible. Back in the day, they said hip hop was for the outsiders and hip hop is revolutionary. If that’s true, then why are all these masculine-ass drunk dudes with guns taking over the game? At the end of the day to me, they are more rap than hip hop. The difference between the two is like the difference between rock, alternative, and punk.

Hyper-masculinity is doing a lot of harm, in that it is controlling the idea that men don’t have feelings. We are hyper-violent, hyper-sexual ne’er do wells with hella masculinity problems anyway. Even worse, some people encourage this shit. I thank God for Kash Jordan and Young Thug aiming to tear that shit down, because hyper-masculinity is a fucking facade. All the way. Show me a man who flexes their manhood like diamonds, and I’ll show you a weak dude who probably wishes he was as brave as LGBT types and hides insecurity with a gun or an equally masculine girlfriend. Or show me a dude who talks shit to other rappers, and you’ll see a woman revealing him to be a “fingerinthebootyassbitch”.

Hyper-masculinity is stupid because it denies that men have a feminine side, which they do. Everyone has a little bit of something. Every man has a bit of femininity and every woman has a bit of masculinity. Point blank! It’s just a matter of when you bring it out, at what time, for what. You know? It gets dangerous, if not tricky, when there’s a clear imbalance of the two, but what can one do about that? You know?

EN: Yeah, I get what you mean – in a lot of ways it seems like hip-hop as a whole is going through a bit of an identity crisis, don’t you think? Like, there’s the hyper-masculine old guard, then this new wave struggling (but trying) to break that binary but facing resistance.

Lightning Pill: It is, but it is necessary. They say music dies when you put out the same shit and things get hella stale… Actually, I wouldn’t call it an identity crisis. Maybe an exploration to see all of what hip hop and rap can actually be and do. It’s a revelation of different dimensions of hip hop that was mostly just banished to the underground. It’s intriguing, and long overdue.

EN: That brings me to my next question, what is your biggest gripe with hip-hop currently? Is it the hyper-masculine environment, or something else?

Lightning Pill: My frustration with hip-hop mostly lies in people’s thought that hip-hop should be one-sided, hypocritical and ignorant of their influence. The same people who admit being influenced by Biggie and Tupac are the same dudes who say that their music is “just music” when they get called out on their ignorance. Anytime these people say they don’t want to be role models, I respect that; but, if they didn’t want to be role models, then they should never have gotten famous… Where everyone can see them and learn from them.

Wherever there’s a person just trying to get a check, there are a group of kids on the bus talking about “smoking dicks”. And the parents only care when there’s music that disturbs the general idea of how society is. They are no less ignorant than anyone else. To them, mainstream music is the only music there is, until someone busts out a hip-hop album that’s better and possibly more revolutionary. The trouble with mainstream rap is that people always think “this is how it is”, and that’s bullshit. There is always more to the world than what people see… Or maybe their ignorance is willful. Either way, I hate that hip-hop wants to use their ignorance as a crutch for why some of them just want to make money and don’t want their music to do anything else. Once you are on the Billboard, you are a fucking role model to someone! Deal with it!

Also, I am not entirely comfortable that entertainment has an upper hand over education at times because of how catchy and gripping the music is. People think all you got to do in music is make hits about what you know and don’t know, but how many of them even know how to play an instrument? How many of them studied the music business to figure out how to get ahead other than just making hits? Kids are like sponges. They learn from artists because in their eyes, artists and entertainers are more intriguing. That’s their escape, and it eventually turns into their education whether they believe it or not. So, when something like hyper-masculinity is a thing, more men are being taught that that is what being a man is. We both know that is absolute bullshit and a complete detriment to their sense of humanity.

EN: It sounds a lot like you want prominent musicians to realize that they’re role models and use that elevated status more wisely.

Lightning Pill: Do they have a choice? They are literally in the face of the general public. Men, women and children of all ages, sexes and creeds see them. They don’t have to completely change themselves, but if that’s what they want to maintain, then they have the option of embracing the private life of others. Hell, they could be underground where you can be anything or anyone and nobody can censor you. Hell, Cupcakke is a rapper who has turned down a LOT of record label offers to do it herself, which might afford her some lowkey privacy compared to much bigger types. As soon as you are eligible for Teen Choice Awards, you should expect eyes on you. Not just in terms of fame, but in having loyal “followers” in every sense of the word. It is inevitable and raging against it would be hella useless.

Though, I wouldn’t have minded much if Cupcakke went bigger because I predict her time infront of the spotlight will be spent offering something for the kids as well as adults.

EN: So, transitioning to something a little more about you as an artist. What can we expect from you in the coming year both musically and otherwise?

Lightning Pill: I have been told multiple times to never tell people things before they are done, or before they happen… But, I have two albums and a long mixtape coming up next year. The long mixtape is called Cincuenta, which I can say is my only truly guaranteed project. The rest might fall to the wayside if I lose motivation and seek to do other things musically. But Cincuenta is a yes for next year.

As for performances? I am working on performing more, and maybe testing out Concert Window or my own YouTube concert inspired by Couch by Couchwest.

EN: I like that you’re always trying innovative things like the concept of a YouTube concert. Have you ever released any physical copies of your music? If not, do you plan to?

Lightning Pill: I haven’t. I wish I had the funds to construct physical stuff. I’m still trying to find labels interested in releasing either cassettes or CDs. For now, it all remains digital. Though, I recently talked to Become Eternal, and if all goes well, they will make cassettes of my old ambient work. So, stay tuned there!

EN: A bit of a random question here, but my curiosity is eating me alive. Where’d you get the name Lightning Pill, and what’s the meaning behind it?

Lightning Pill: I have two explanations for this, both of which actually fit. One day I was walking home listening to Patrick Wolf’s The Magic Position, this whole time I pictured him as this glam folktronic figure. I was already trying to work out a sound that’s like folk music using electronic instruments, as opposed to using electronic instruments to manipulate the sound of folk instruments. I have a tendency to put myself in artist’s shoes to keep my imagination going, and I named myself Lightning Pill.

I thought about it a little further another day when I remembered seeing a cartoon where all of the farm animals ate the pills that were supposed to control the weather. If an animal ate a sunny pill, the sun shines out of your stomach. If you are a rainy pill, a rain-cloud will constantly follow you. If you ate a thunder and lighting pill, your insides will get shocked.

So, my name is a bit more extroverted than my music is willing to match, but Lightning Pill stuck around longer than Charcoal Sketches of the Invisible Man (a name I was now willing to use when in a band or collaborating with an artist).

EN: Alright my man, we’re basically at length for this interview. So my last question is, is there anyone you’d like to shout-out, and show some love to, to close things off?

Lightning Pill: The most important person I have to shout out is Ilya of IHeartNoise. If it wasn’t for him, who knows if, one, I’d be making music, two, you’d know that I made music and three, I’d be blogging or sticking with the idea of making experimental music. He was the first ever person who had not only been blogging about my music, but actually championed and listened to my work. Not to mention, on Twitter, he constantly shouts me out to people looking for new music, new writers and all of that. Without that, who knows if you’d be here talking to me. Who knows if I would be getting as much blessings as I do now?

I’d also like to thank those who have listened to my music, read my tweets, and checked out any recommendations I had sent their way. I’m doing my very best not to let anyone down. It’s a hard process, but I didn’t adopt a workaholic persona for nothing. Thank you to all reading.

Apu Rambles: This Year, and the Future

by Apu

yearend

Well, it’s December 28th (well, probably not when this piece goes up). So I guess it’s the time of year to talk about shit I liked and shit I didn’t like, because I’m a person who sometimes writes for a music blog and that means everybody on earth is just dying for my input even though nobody asked.

There are a fair amount of albums this year that I liked. Tribe’s We Got It From Here…Thank You 4 Your Service is what I now consider the pinnacle of a group reuniting and going out. I obviously really liked the two albums I reviewed (Kuniva’s A History of Violence Vol. 2 and Fatt Father’s Veterans Day). I was impressed by Snoop’s Coolaid, and Aesop’s The Impossible Kid was a cool listen, as were Marv Won’s Soundtrack To Autumn, De La Soul’s …and the Anonymous Nobody, and Kendrick’s untitled umastered… I didn’t mind Royce’s Layers and T.I.’s Us Or Else: Letter To The System… And as I sit here that’s all I can think of at the moment of writing this, although I’m sure there’s great music I am either forgetting came out this year or I haven’t had the chance to listen to yet.

However, dope as those albums were, there were only two albums that came out this year that really blew my mind. Albums that I knew were something special from the first time I listened to them; where that feeling didn’t go away after two listens, or three, or ten…

Those albums were Atrocity Exhibition by Danny Brown, and Run The Jewels 3 by a duo whose name I’ve forgotten.

I think based off that little incomplete list of albums above, it’s clear that that my taste tends to be a little lot more rooted in traditional hip hop. However, it ended up being Atrocity Exhibition and RTJ3 that really stood out to me. Danny’s album in particular is so far from what I normally listen to that I was incredibly surprised at how much I liked it when I was hearing it for the first time, especially given how stubborn and set in my ways I am. It was (and I’m using someone else’s description for it, go ahead and sue me for plagiarism***) some weird industrial post-punk shit, way far away from the end of the musical spectrum that I generally find to be appealing.

Normally, I’m really, really not into industrial hip hop. It’s a little too abstract for my pea-brain to be able to comprehend. Most of the industrial hip hop that I’ve listened to contains weird sounds, and rapping that’s too… out there for me to like. It’s just my personal opinion, I don’t connect to it. So for a little bit, it sort of perplexed me as to why I loved Danny’s album so much. I mean, sure, the rapping was great, but I had never imagined that I would gravitate so much towards the production. However, I listened to it more and more, it started to click.

Danny Brown put his own spin on a typical Detroit sound. There are moments on this album that remind me very strongly of the Fat Killahz. “Dance In The Water” sounds similar to “The Fat Song.” The production on “Lost” sounds reminiscent of something you’d hear Fatt Father and/or Marv Won rap on. “Get Hi” screamed King Gordy. However, they weren’t exactly the same. The production on Atrocity Exhibition was warped beyond our dimension; it sounded like it was what Danny wanted us to think went on in his head when he was on drugs.

That didn’t matter though. It did what many other industrial rap acts that I’ve listened to don’t. It stayed hip hop. It’s a lot harder to blend two genres and stay hip hop while trying to go industrial than it is to just make the jump over into industrial. Atrocity Exhibition did its best to get as far away from typical hip hop production as it could, but it made sure to remain rooted in the genre in a way that was familiar. There are hipsters who aren’t versed at all in hip hop who may get mad and try to tell me I’m wrong and that Danny’s album was so good because he abandoned traditional hip hop, but I couldn’t disagree more. He didn’t abandon hip hop, he just blended genres together, seamlessly, without making it too on-the-nose or overt the way someone like Yelawolf does these days with his terrible outlaw country pop rap.

Danny blended genres and kept a hip hop attitude. In doing so, his album became the most creative, effectively experimental hip hop album I have ever heard and love to the degree that I do.

Then I got to thinking, and it began to make sense as to why I enjoyed Run The Jewels from the very first time I listened to them. El-P’s production generally consists of synthesized drums and distorted instruments, far from the heavy bass and knocking drums of what you’d think of when you think of New York. However, he keeps the gritty, Brooklyn vibe to it. The way the beats are done, it sounds like they’re looped in a way similar to the sampling done by a typical New York boom bap producer, even when nothing is being sampled. In fact, on some songs, particularly “Legend Has It,” “Down,” “Thieves!” and “Thursday In The Danger Room,” the production almost sounds like futuristic boom bap. It’s very unlike what I had originally expected industrial hip hop to sound like, before I started to listen to their music, because I had heard several songs that didn’t sound anything like good hip hop (or music [sorry, not sorry]) to me.

Right now, it seems like hip hop is in limbo, sonically, as far as what the next representative sound will be. I get the feeling we’re going to see the current phase of trap fall out of popular favor in the near future. There’s a lot of different sorts of experimental-sounding music coming out. I think Kendrick may have spearheaded it last year with To Pimp A Butterfly. Although the mumble/trap aspect of hip hop is sinking to new lows with irredeemable garbage being made by guys like Lil Yachty and Desiigner, there’s new climate, where it seems like people are starting to throw new ideas against the wall and seeing what sticks. I actually don’t think there’s been a time like this in hip hop since I’ve been a fan. There’s an air of artistic freedom that I think may be starting to arise with the prevalence of independent acts. Whatever it is, I think we’re going to be coming out of the mumble rap phase, at least in the next 2 or 3 years.

I want to see the next phase of hip hop be the style of industrial/alt-rap that I’ve been discussing. It seems to be catching on as time goes on and the general atmosphere of hip hop becomes more experimental. It doesn’t even need to be done to the degree that it’s done by Run The Jewels or Danny Brown on Atrocity Exhibition. Black Milk, for instance, has been becoming more and more experimental with his production with every release; the distorted keyboards, the bass, the drums, the vibe. It started on his Tronic album, and on his last album, If There’s A Hell Below, it seems like he’s heading in a very exciting direction, while still remaining firmly rooted in hip hop. I want to see more of it.

That’s not to say that I want to see artists from the 90s try to be experimental just because it’s what’s popular. I want to be clear and say that I want upcoming artists to participate in making this sort of sound. You know how it sounds sort of desperate (bordering on pathetic on occasion) when a rapper 20 years deep starts rapping on trap beats and using autotuned hooks? It’d sort of be the same kind of thing. There’s nothing wrong with staying in your lane and doing what you know, so long as your own artistry doesn’t regress or stagnate. Do things naturally. With rapper/producers it’s different, because producers have a different mindset, so guys like El-P and Black Milk who have been around for a while can get more experimental organically. But I want the industrial/experimental sound to be like how right now with trap, where it’s the sound that most new and upcoming rappers want to jump into and start their [non]careers with.

Busta Rhymes said in a Westwood interview this year something that I found really interesting. He spoke about the acts who seem to be succeeding in making quality music have something in common. They keep their feet planted in the essence of hip hop. They don’t necessarily make the hip hop of the past, but they keep the spirit and vibe of hip hop while venturing out to do their own styles of music. He says that the trap shit that even his own artists do is cool in the moment, but the really timeless, transcendent music being made by rappers is the music that remembers that it’s hip hop. I really like what he was saying, and for the most part, I agree with him wholeheartedly…but what I liked most about the interview is that Bus’ got Westwood to sit quietly without spouting some loud, unfunny nonsense for more than 3 minutes. But yeah, what he was talking about is exactly why albums like RTJ3 (and RTJ’s other two albums) and Atrocity Exhibition are so effective while being so experimental.

I tried to articulate all of this the best I can. I’m not very well-versed in industrial hip hop so I may sound like I don’t really know what I’m talking about. I hope I got my point across. In any case, I’m interested in what the future of hip hop will sound like. If it sounds anything at all like what I was describing then I’m on board.

***I’m sorry, I just wanted to look cool. Please don’t sue me.

Understanding the Necessity and Shortcomings of Music Streaming

by Dustin

streaming

Though streaming hasn’t been a dominant form of music distribution for very long, the idea took root over fifteen years ago with Napster and MusicNET. These services were met with criticism, rejection, and (in the case of Napster) legal issues. Flash forward to today, the service options are different but many of the issues remain the same. However, in the modern era of music, it appears to be that streaming is becoming a necessity.

To understand the need for streaming, one can simply examine the consequences of out right rejecting these services. To speculate on how severe these consequences could be, a simply case study from another industry can be used: Sears.

Sears resisted adapting their catalogue system for far too long. Though the demand for online sales was ever increasing from many loyal consumers, Sears remained set in their ways. This would prove to be a critical failure as the company lost a huge consumer base; moreover, a later attempt to move into the online world would prove futile with the rise of Amazon. Sears had also not exactly been a darling financially, and this failure to adapt proved to be nearly fatal for the company. Over one hundred and twenty Sears stores closed in the year of 2011 alone, and they’ve never quite recovered from the lost business.

Of course this isn’t a perfect comparison for the music industry and streaming. Yet, it illustrates how devastating it can be to ignore the demand for change. Digital sales occupied this space for years, but now the consumers are leaning towards streaming. The music industry as a whole cannot got out of business like a retail chain; however, it can see artists and labels forced into a position where profit is simply not possible if consumer demand isn’t facilitated.

Fortunately, the industry has shown a willingness to adapt before. Whether it be physical media changes, or moving into an online space, music distribution has been fluid. Streaming could also prove to be attractive in its own right.

Streaming offers many advantages for both artists and labels. A 2015 study by Aguiar and Waldfogel (for the European Commission) showed that an increase in streaming correlates to a noticeable drop in music piracy. There is also appeal in how simple it is to get music onto streaming services. For small scale artists, being able to manage their own music on Spotify or Apple Music is often times a simpler process than landing a distribution deal. It has also created a new job space, with online distributors cropping up in order to help musicians get their product to these services.

From the standpoint of the consumer, streaming is a powerhouse. Rather than spending ten dollars for every new release, huge libraries of new and old music are available on demand at a single monthly fee. Audiophiles may take issue with the lack of control over sound quality and song tagging, but for the casual listener streaming services simply makes sense. These services are often incredibly portable, making it far easier to bring your music from desktop to mobile device. As a whole, it is easy to see why streaming is immensely popular with your average listener.

One may wonder why there is still such a resistance to streaming within the music industry, considering these positives. The answer to that is relatively simple: streaming is a necessary, but highly flawed, service.

I gave up and became a Spotify-er,
Paying myself a fraction of a penny playing “Qualifiers”.
(Open Mike Eagle – Dark Comedy Late Show)

Even though streaming has reduced piracy rates, it has also negatively impacted digital download sales (such as those provided by iTunes and Bandcamp). This ultimately reduces the positive impact it has on the music industry; moreover, this is a genuine issue due to the minuscule payout received by artists and labels per stream. Until the problem of royalties can be sorted, music streaming is going to be a somewhat problematic service.

There are of course other issues, such as fragmenting subscribers with service-specific exclusives. Perhaps the most prevalent cases of this was Kanye West’s The Life of Pablo fiasco. The album experienced abnormally high piracy rates due to its chaotic and exclusive release through the Tidal streaming service. Exclusives are certainly an interesting way to attempt to attract new subscribers, unfortunately it also seems harmful to the long term viability of streaming.

Spotify, Apple Music, Tidal, and Google Play give music an accessibility that the world has never seen before. It stands to reason that there will be kinks to work out along the way. Though it’s been close to fifteen years since the idea of streaming started gaining traction, we still exist in the early years of services attempting to do things legally. One can see the clear benefits and necessity of streaming services, but it appears that it will still be a while longer before they are agreeable for everyone.