My Thoughts on Current Music Discourse

by Rajin

musicdiscorse

While Dustin writing again after being pretty silent for nearly the entire year thus far is a big deal, I’ve had such frequent breaks from writing that I’m not even sure if this one was the longest. Thankfully, this time around it wasn’t due to writer’s block or mental burnout; essentially everything Dustin covered in his piece addressing why he stopped writing applies to me too.

There is something else that’s tangentially related to what Dustin spoke about in his reintroduction piece though. During the site’s hiatus, I spent more of my time observing than commenting. In doing so, I’ve come to really see how horrible some people can be when they speak on certain artists or music that they personally dislike. It’s something I was always aware of, of course, but it’s been driven home to me just how widespread this sort of attitude has been recently. Dustin said something in his article that stuck with me, but for reasons different than what I believe he had intended when saying it.

The people you’re talking to behind the monitor are people too.

In this age of constant accessibility to music and artists through social media, artists have become circus animals. When the routine isn’t what they want it to be, the audience throws peanuts because they think it’s funny. This isn’t a new or original observation, but everything is treated like either unequivocal fire or trash. No nuance, no middle ground. It’s all just perpetuated by lazy hip hop publications on social media, asking fans to drop a shit emoji or a fire emoji in the comments, reply with a .gif of how they feel about something, or whatever else to fish for engagement in the most shallow of ways. And when it comes to the fans, when you can quantify “how right” your opinion is through likes and retweets, it gets really easy to start spouting aggressive, intentionally contrarian, half-baked thoughts because of people mindlessly scrolling and interacting with it. These stupid hive-mind opinions start to spread, artists become easy punching bags, and a lot of the time, music gets reduced to a joke in certain circles. It’s a counterproductive practice, because there are people who put their whole selves into the music, as well as listeners who genuinely resonate with it on a personal level.

It’s become so easy for people to voice whatever opinions they’d like to and not have to worry about the consequences behind their words. Due to the fact that nobody really needs to see anyone else face-to-face in order to instantly communicate with them, a lack of respect has developed over the years that – while not exclusive to hip hop’s artists and audience – pervades the social dynamics between people who engage with music and people who make it. You don’t need to really think about what you’re saying, all you do is send a tweet out to virtual space and go about your day.

I don’t think there very many fans who really treat music like it’s art anymore. Music has been something so accessible for so long now. Not to sound like an out-of-touch old man, but kids are growing up in an era where the idea of spending money on music is an entirely alien concept. And why wouldn’t it be? Why on earth would someone spend money on something they can get for free? Adults who grew up buying music don’t question it so why on earth would an average teenager, for whom streaming is all they know, question it too?

But it’s still a problem, at least in my view. There’s no way that this hasn’t shifted the way music is thought about. I’ve seen somebody actually criticize somebody else for buying vinyl LPs of a few albums that they considered bad – it didn’t even seem to occur to this person that the album was a product that was meant to be purchased. Setting aside how silly it is to criticize a stranger over the internet about how he spends his money, this person couldn’t fathom the idea of financially compensating an artist for the product that was consumed just because it was perceived as “bad”. As though buying a bad album is any different from buying a bad video game or paying to see a bad movie in theaters…yet nobody would bat an eye at somebody doing the latter two.

The change in perception of music from art that’s meant to be paid for to essentially an entitlement is also part of what I believe has fueled the treatment of artists lately. The human element of an artist creating something is lost on people. I think that’s what makes it easier to trash something with no regard for the language being used. The degrees of separation that have arisen with the way music consumption has developed as well as the personal disconnect through social media honestly makes it understandable why things happen the way they do nowadays. Of course, trashing music isn’t a new phenomenon; there have always been assholes out there who are either trying to be funny or are insecure elitist fools who think they need to tear someone or something else down to look good. But at the end of the day, it’s just something that I’ve noticed more of, and it’s been bothering me.

I know it looks like all I’m doing is yelling “SOCIAL MEDIA BAD” in this piece so far, but please don’t get me wrong. I’m not trying to chastise anyone or preach. I’m certainly not guilt-free. On sites that I used to visit, I would be just as bad as the people I’m talking about right now. To this day, I can still be pretty harsh against my better judgement. I just try to keep it confined to private conversation rather than public trashing. Even so, I’m sure someone could dig up pretty disrespectful tweets that directly contradict what I’m saying now. So I get it. It’s just something that I feel is worth keeping in mind when discussing art. I’m not saying I want to see people pretending they like something when they don’t. Negative feedback to sub-par music is essential for an artist to grow. Sometimes an album is going to miss the mark. It happens. Artists are people, and people fuck up, no matter their profession. But musical discourse has gone from fairly thoughtful to almost entirely reactionary. It’s disrespectful to artists and frankly pretty boring to engage in as a fan. There are so few people whose opinions I respect or care to hear at this point in time and it sucks.

However, none of this is as egregious as what a lot of “professional” music journalists do. I have very little, if any, respect for the vast majority of them. I want to make something very clear though: I’m speaking mainly about writers at big publications like habitual offenders XXL or more recently The Source, and not necessarily people at smaller blogs (at least not the ones who value thoughtful writing over click-baiting everything the fuck out). Publications without integrity. Writers who will happily trash an artist in reviews that spend more time talking about the artist’s age, past hits, problematic behavior, and promotional buildup than they do the actual music. They drag the artists through the mud in reviews, but they’ll never shut up about them. They’ll cover every move they make, every tweet they send out, every affiliate who gets shot or locked up. They’ll expect these artists to sit for interviews…and then they’ll go right back and write another lazy review with no effort made at showing respect to the person who has supplied them with exposure and ad revenue or his/her creative process. I mean, I suppose it makes sense. People are going to click on the review regardless, so why bother putting effort into it if you’re getting paid either way, right? Plus, if you have a few snappy sentences insulting the artist, you can always rely on somebody to screenshot it and post it on Twitter for extra clicks!

None of this is a secret. It’s fucking disgusting. These writers, being the parasitic scum they are, don’t even hide how obvious it is. It’s getting worse as time goes on. It’s really not that hard to give an album a respectful and thoughtful critical write-up while without turning it into a personal attack, but that causes less of a reaction so that’s obviously out of the question.

On that note, I do want to say that I personally don’t feel comfortable writing reviews anymore. My writer’s block last year was directly due to the fact that I had shifted my focus to writing reviews. The site as a whole had trended in that direction in general, and I struggled to write anything that I felt truly did the albums I was reviewing justice. I don’t have the skill required to break an album into its components, speak about each, then bring it all back together to speak about it holistically. And giving an album a numerical grade seems like it’s very reductionist. Doing so works as a shortcut to people who don’t want to actually read about the album, but rather look for reviewers whose opinions validate their own. I don’t find reviews fun, and at the end of the day I only started posting here because I thought it was fun to talk about music. I am proud of my last couple of reviews, but they were exhausting and I still feel like I could have and should have gone further with them. So I’m probably done with that for the most part.

I understand that this may come off as needlessly bitter or preachy. But it bothers me how carelessly hip hop gets handled by music media, just because it runs pop culture and is therefore the easiest genre to cover. I’m tired of seeing kids who don’t understand or care about rap music or hip hop culture profiting off of something they don’t know and will never take the time to learn about. And while I’m not getting paid to do this, I know that to a lot of readers, I’m not any more qualified to talk than they are. The thing is, I know that’s not inaccurate. I’m not a voice that can speak on behalf of hip hop. I can’t dictate what hip hop should or shouldn’t be. I’m not a tastemaker, I’m not a gatekeeper. I’m a nerd who grew up fascinated with hip hop culture and rap music. I’m an outsider looking in. I write because hip hop has shaped so much about me, from my worldview to my sense of humor and beyond, and I would like to pay tribute to that. And that’s why it grates on my nerves so much to see people treat hip hop and rappers like they’re a commodity for anybody to get in on. Hip hop deserves respect and it’s about time the people who exploit it for a paycheck realize that, and do better.

Rajin Rambles: Time to Defend Dust Again…

by Rajin

dust

Despite what the title may imply, I’m not gonna spend any time or energy speaking about music I don’t like in this piece. I’m sure I’ve done that enough, and it would probably look tacky at this point (it was actually probably always tacky). However, I really don’t like the attitude that I’ve seen some people carry, about the past belonging in the past and being irrelevant. Right now, hip hop is at an “age,” so to speak, where it’s made an incredibly long journey from its roots. There’s very little now that resembles the music that artists like Run-D.M.C. were making when rap music was just first exploding onto the scene.

For this reason, I feel like some “dated” sounding material being released could be constructive. The argument that I’ve seen come up is that we’ve seen certain styles of music done before, so there’s no real reason to see them again. While I understand that point, and even agreed with it to a certain extent until fairly recently, I don’t think it necessarily has to hold true. I’m just barely over half of hip hop’s age and while I don’t have any official figures or statistics, I don’t think it would be inaccurate to say that a huge chunk of the audience is in my age group. I also don’t think it would be inaccurate to make the claim that most listeners in my age group really don’t give a shit about what was happening 30 years ago. While I think it’s irresponsible for writers and media personalities — who are theoretically supposed to have respect and knowledge for the history — to approach hip hop with that sort of attitude, I don’t think I can blame a casual listener for feeling that way. There’s so much music being released these days that if you’re not somebody extremely passionate about it, it’s hard to find the time to both keep up and go back in time no matter how accessible everything is now. The pool of music just continues to grow, which makes the task of wading through it all that much more imposing.

This is why I feel like what LL Cool J is doing on his Rock The Bells radio show is so essential. It offers a quick and easy way to take a look back through the history of hip hop and rap music. You get to listen to the hits that came before your time, and build an understanding of where the music been and how it got here. All coming from someone who everybody recognizes for one reason or another, who also happens to be someone who took part in solidifying this music as something more than just a fad.

With where hip hop is now, I strongly believe that there could be some benefit in revisiting styles and sounds without tailoring anything to 2019. It’s clear that there’s room for anything in hip hop. We have seen boom bap, a style that most people consider to be outdated, make a powerful comeback in the last few years. Granted, it isn’t generally the type of boom bap you would see in the ‘90s. It still exhibited a bit of evolution; at this point, boom bap today is far from being “throwback,” and I find it a little annoying when it gets relegated as such (I can’t say for sure, but this more than likely contradicts stuff that I’ve said in the past). It quickly picked up where the ‘90s left off, and is now sonically something very different than it used to be. It feels like a natural progression, but it doesn’t necessarily bring anything from the past back.

I would love to see someone from the ‘80s come out and make something that sounds like what they were making back then, but brought into 2019. Kool G Rap is still around out-rapping people over 30 years into his career, but that’s not necessarily what I’m talking about. I want to hear something like EPMD rapping over funk samples and bringing back the feeling they had on their music before their first breakup, or LL shouting boasts over loud minimalist production. I feel like it could be interesting to see music like that released in this day and age. Such a large portion of today’s rap fanbase has no idea what hip hop sounded like before the ‘00s. I find that gaining an understanding of what happened in the past could add to one’s overall understanding of the music in general — at least that’s how it’s worked for me. Re-examining what’s happened in the past could open up new pathways in the future, possibly to styles that hadn’t happened in the past due to technical limitations and such. In a way, I feel like it would almost be like taking a few steps back stylistically to attempt a net movement forward. At worst, it would end up just end up reinforcing that the past should stay in the past.

You kind of see that with artists, in a way. I’m going to use Cypress Hill as an example. They came onto the scene with a very dark, hazy sound, courtesy of DJ Muggs drawing from psychedelic rock as a source of inspiration and samples. This remained the case, for the most part, through their first four albums; their formula was seldom changed. They essentially just made the same sort of music for four albums (which isn’t a criticism – those are four of my top five Cypress Hill albums). However, by the time Skull & Bones came out they largely abandoned everything that they had built their brand on and moved on to other styles. They messed with the current trends going on in west coast hip hop at the time as well as, regrettably, nu-metal. In the years to come, they would also try out reggae-influenced sounds, and even have an album without any Muggs production at all. Cypress Hill decided that they wanted to try new styles out after spending the better part of a decade using what was essentially the same style, and that’s fair. An artist/group is at full liberty to make whatever creative decisions they want to. Last year though, they decided to go back to their roots for their latest album, Elephants on Acid. This saw them returning straight to their Temples of Boom days of making dark, murky, and psychedelic music. They felt more at-home making this sort of music than they had in 20 years. From here, they can go in whatever direction they want to, but it’s clear revisiting what was familiar revitalized them for the most part.

I feel like this same sort of thing could go for rap music as a whole. The genre has been exploring many different sounds for decades now, and I feel like the time may be right for it to take a second and revisit its roots. While in general, music has become a lot more complex and detailed since the days I’m talking about, I believe it would still be worth exploring.

I don’t know. These are just some stray thoughts and I don’t think I really even said anything here. But I’ve felt like this for a while now. For the first half of January I was listening to almost nothing but ‘80s rap. I wanted to get familiar with the history of rap music and see how it developed. See how regions outside of New York developed their own sounds. Observe how rappers who would be considered vets by the early ‘90s had to adjust to the rapid innovation and change in the landscape, and compare that to how vets do it today. So much has been left in the past with no trace of it around now, which is understandable enough. I suppose what I’m trying to say is that in a time where accessibility is at an all-time high, it seems like the history of hip hop is focused on less than ever; for that reason, I feel like it wouldn’t be the worst idea to try reminding people where things started. I’d like to see some older artists show everyone what gave new artists a platform to begin with.


Final edit: Dustin

A Few Tips for Cleaner Musician Media Packages

by Dustin

pleasereviewmymusic
This is an exact quote from an email I received in March of 2018.

This is a topic I don’t see discussed too often, so I wanted to take a minute to talk about it here. As we preach, we really like to give small independent acts an opportunity to be spotlighted on Extraordinary Nobodies. Primarily because we love to be able to help provide coverage, but also due to the fact that smaller fan-bases tend to be more loyal readers. It’s just one of those situations that can work out to be mutually beneficial, and I know plenty of other blogs feel similarly; however, the internet being as open-ended as it is means there is a lot of noise in the music scene. Rarely will your music be stumbled upon randomly, rendering submissions to blogs and other publications invaluable. We love music submissions, yet it’s become fairly apparent to me that many have little clue how to present their art in a professional way. I thought maybe it would be helpful if I offered a few tips based on personal preference and experience, as an individual dealing with such emails on a weekly basis. They’re not overly challenging, simply a few minor things to consider when aiming to prepare a cleaner media package.

First and foremost, please remember to actually send your music in the email. I know that sounds stupidly obvious — and trust me, it should be — but in three years of operating this website, I’ve received seven different music submissions with no actual music submitted. No links, no attachments, nothing. It is basically impossible to take an artist seriously when this happens, sorry to say. If you realize you forgot though, don’t be too embarrassed to send another email. Accidents happen, we’re all humans here.

Ideally, you’re also going to want to provide a little information about yourself. This doesn’t have to be extremely personal if you’re looking to maintain some sort of anonymity, as many prefer to in this day and age. That being said, if you’re a new artist there is a good chance I am not going to be able to research anything about you. To be totally blunt, it makes it impossible to build an interesting introductory paragraph and I won’t even bother to pursue the music further at that point. Even just going as far as when you started making music, who your influences are, and what general region you’re from are more than enough to make you easier to write about. Only including a single line asking me to check your project out with nothing else is probably going to land you in the recycle bin rather than the folder of interest, just to be transparent.

In addition to the above, try not to force cockiness in your message. Confidence is great, but nearly every act to tell me “I’m one of the best young artists in my area, you don’t want to miss out on this insane hidden talent” has ended up being absolutely awful. I truly want you to believe in your abilities, but the ego-masturbation looks like overcompensation for subpar talent.

Social media is also an invaluable tool. I can’t really understate the importance of including the link to your socials in your media package. Even if we don’t get the chance to write about your music right away, we actively want to be able to keep up with your career. A few times I’ve had artists with impossible-to-search stage names (such as using their real name) send me quality music, leaving me unable to follow them in the future as they did not add any social media links. It’s frustrating and sort of off-putting. Obviously this is less important than a few other things I’ve spoken about, since some people don’t even use social media to begin with; however, if you do have accounts for your music persona, I would urge you severely to do so.

Many of us writing on independent blogs are doing this purely for the passion, just like you and your music. It’s a love that we pursue as a form of leisure, so I’m sure the demand for professionalism seems over the top to some extent. Honestly, that’s a fair perspective and I could understand anyone feeling that way upon reading this article. In the same breath, like you we run on limited time when it comes to content creation. We have jobs, family affairs, and outside responsibility constantly draining on our attention. While we want to be a platform for the DIY-at-heart, we simply cannot handle having to dig for information on every musician we want to cover. If you can take the extra time to teach us what we need to know, I have a lot of confidence you’ll be received more positively almost anywhere you submit. It’s your first line of connection, and I think it’s more than worth the effort to show you’re serious.


Final edit: Rajin – Additional direction: Isaac

Think Piece: Why the Hate Fetish and Mindless Following?

by Dustin

negativityainttheway

If only this were a public presentation. I would ask for a show of hands from individuals who’ve experienced a true “hater” (for lack of a better term). The type of person that goes into anything assuming, possibly hoping, that they hate it. One assured to get more joy from verbally tearing into media than actually consuming it. I’m genuinely certain that every individual in the audience would raise their palm, particularly if they’ve spent any amount of time on the web. Music fandoms seem to be a continual purveyor of hate porn. Sometime between the point Pitchfork started spewing untreated sewage and the present, it’s seemingly become far cooler to approach under the mindset of flaw hyper-vigilance; ignoring the redeemable out of desire to be dissatisfied and overflowing with hot takes.

A particular facet of this that really bothers me is the desperation in matching opinions with prevalent tastemakers. I mean, I understand that this is basically the entire point of tastemaking to begin with; however, I really don’t understand abandoning your original opinion of a project just because a YouTuber or author you respect decided to slam it. What are you doing? Are you so obsessed with this online figure that your personality must match theirs entirely? Are you planning to meet them and impress them? Marry them? That’s kind of creepy, to be honest. I’m sure I should probably just mind my own business because worrying about this at all makes me a bit of a hypocrite, but come on. You can watch social media perception of a release shift from positive or negative in real time after a few notable people publish their thoughts. It’s pathetic, man. You can enjoy a reviewer and not agree with them all the time. Trust me, it’s not illegal. Most of us don’t care, and those that do are probably horrible at talking about music anyway.

I also scratch my head at the entire idea of “uncool” artists. Acts that you’re not allowed to enjoy without feeling embarrassed because the populous has decided they’re lame. I’ll take a hard pass on that, thanks. It’s understandable when it’s a monster like R. Kelly (though the general public could certainly be doing a better job of exiling him), but what exactly is there to gain from being ashamed of your tastes? 15 years from now, are any of you going to be happy that you abandoned loved material to impress uptight nerds on the internet? I highly doubt it. Do yourself a favor and redownload every album you enjoyed but moved to the recycle bin because it might make you seem like a “loser.” Cut it out, you’re better than that. Happy listening.

I suppose what I’m urging you to do is take music a little less seriously. It’s not that big of a thing, and it never has to be. Art is art. If you approach it from a more positive place, you’re going to end up enjoying so many things. For me, when I finally tossed the constant scrutiny to the side, my eyes were opened to an amazing new world of experiences. Admittedly, I still write and release negative reviews in spite of carrying a genuine wish to love every record I spin. Disappointment is human nature, and I think there’s value in sharing why you were disappointed. It adds some variety to the discussion, as long as the views are truly your own. For the listener, though, I don’t think you should let this influence your preferences negatively. Enjoy what you enjoy, and read articles for the pleasure of seeing through another perspective. Reviews are not authority, they’re simply entertainment just like the albums they’re coat-tailling. Turn off your lust for dislike, and lend art the open mind it deserves. You might surprise yourself with how much fun it can be, besides, none of this is a competition.


Final edit: Emily – Preliminary edit: Rajin – Additional direction: Isaac

Rajin Rambles: 2018 in Review, and Beyond

by Rajin

rajin2019

So I’ve kinda been AWOL for most of this year. I’ve been struggling with some pretty bad writer’s block for one reason or another. I just wanted to use this piece as an opportunity to shake the rust off and give my opinions on hip hop in 2018 that I — as someone who was raised a soft suburbanite — can’t and don’t expect any readers to take seriously.

I mentioned in last year’s recap that I felt hip hop was in a state of limbo, and that rap music didn’t seem to know where it wanted to go. In some ways I think that still holds true. It seems like commercial rap is clinging on for dear life to the trends that’ve had the genre in a stranglehold over the last two or three years. Rappers both new and established seem petrified at the idea of leaving the comfort zone that has established itself, because nobody knows where to go next. Melodic trap lives on for better or for worse…and from what I can tell, it’s actually gained some footing back in the game. Last year I got the sense that there was a bit of exhaustion in regards to that sort of music that I no longer seem to find. People seem like they’re totally satisfied with the prevailing trends remaining firmly in place, which I can’t knock since everybody has their own tastes; however, I’m a little disheartened by the stagnation. I also can’t pretend like I’m not sick and tired of the representative sound of hip hop being so sanitary and watered-down when the music was built off a spirit of defiance and grit.

This is all anecdotal though. I can’t say for sure whether my observations are actually accurate; all I can say is I’ve been hearing a lot of Travis Scott and Drake, and it’s made me want to “accidentally” crush my own windpipe.

Fortunately for those who have tastes that aren’t exactly satisfied by that sort of music, an almost comical amount of projects were dropped by underground rappers this year. It reached the point where, unless you are in certain settings, there was really no reason for you to pay attention to anything going on that you didn’t like. In the maybe three pieces I’ve written in the last year and a half, I’ve spoken a countless amount of times about the new-age boom bap movement that has taken root in the underground. For some reason, this time last year I figured that this movement’s growth would merely be incremental. Couldn’t tell you why, and at this point I feel pretty fucking stupid for ever holding that belief. The flood gates have been opened and they’re not shutting any time soon. Last year this particular scene was still budding, but this year it’s clear to anybody with the ability to use a computer that the underground is alive. It’s stronger than it’s been in 15 years, maybe somebody should let DJ Booth know.

In the last 12 months, I’ve become familiar with a lot of newer artists. Daniel Son, ANKHLEJOHN, CRIMEAPPLE, Asun Eastwood, and Eto have caught my ears the most. That’s not to take anything away from anyone else, but a huge chunk of my favorite albums this year were released by these guys. Since mid-2017 and even earlier, they’ve released a metric fuckton of incredible projects with shocking consistency. Artists have seemingly upped their output this year…which is also something I’d like to talk about. They’ve been releasing project after project, with many ending 2018 with upwards of four or five; in the past, I likely would not have been thrilled about it. I would have said something about oversaturation serving to dilute the artist’s overall impact for me. I’m not sure that’s how I feel anymore though, at least not with certain artists. More attention is being paid to structuring a body of work. I partially credit the return of vinyl and cassette for that. If people are making albums that they want to release on an analog format, they put a greater effort into trimming the fat and eliminating filler. You can’t just skip a track, so every song needs to serve a purpose. Generally, this results in projects being compact and packing a punch. In comparison to when artists were dropping three 70-minute long mixtapes a year in addition to an album, projects don’t end up sounding as rushed or bloated. That is mainly where my ambivalence toward this practice stemmed from. Having several shorter projects in a year is a great way to accomplish the same thing without sacrificing quality control, and frankly I would quite like it if more of my favorites started releasing more regularly.

I’ve also noticed that producers have been branching out a bit more from the minimal style that Roc Marciano, The Alchemist, and Daringer used to pioneer the sound of this movement. I’m pretty glad about that, because for a little bit I was afraid that people would overdo the minimalism and make it feel stale. I’m once again relieved that I was wrong. I have to give a huge shout-out to Futurewave, who is pretty handily my favorite producer out right now. His work on Pressure Cooker and Physics of Filth is just utterly astounding. It’s everything I love about hip hop. I also want to mention Big Ghost Ltd.; while I’ve enjoyed his work for a while now, his beats on Aguardiente and especially Van Ghost show that he’s continuing with the steady incline he’s been on essentially since coming out as a producer.

This year hasn’t only been about new artists though. I’m very happy with a lot of vets. Roc Marciano obviously comes to mind — he released three albums that I really like, with Behold A Dark Horse putting up serious competing for the position of my favorite album in his discography thus far. One of those albums, Kaos, was produced by the legendary DJ Muggs, who’s had a remarkably strong year himself. He’s actually been on a hot streak since his album with Meyhem Lauren last year, and it doesn’t seem like it’s going to be ending anytime soon; in addition to Kaos, in 2018 alone he released a strong Soul Assassins album, an EP with Meyhem, reunited with Cypress Hill for their best album in two decades, and is set to release albums with Eto, CRIMEAPPLE, and Mach-Hommy next year. Black Thought finally released some solo projects and while they were a little lacking in substance, he made it perfectly clear that he is the most dangerous emcee on the face of the planet. Shad and Blueprint released utterly gorgeous records. People may clown me for this next statement, but they can fuck themselves. I think Eminem brought it with Kamikaze. I consider that to be his best and most genuine album since 2002, which absolutely shocked me because Revival was the epitome of a career-ending album. Royce 5’9” also released his best and most personal album to date this year, alongside a strong PRhyme outing with DJ Premier.

He’s been hyping up a Bad Meets Evil reunion album at shows overseas lately, so I’m really hoping that’s something we see next year. Unrelated, but I’m looking forward to the next Run The Jewels album, too.

Of course, there are a number of vets who once again didn’t release the albums they’ve been promising for years now. At this point, I should know better than to expect Redman, Ghostface, and Busta Rhymes to drop those records…but I’m a moron. Overall though, despite a few of my earlier complaints I found 2018 to be the strongest year hip hop has had since I’ve been a fan. There truly is room for everything in this day and age, a while that lends itself to music and artists I’m really not a fan of, it’s also led to some incredible material and future legends. I hope to be more active next year than I was this year to offer my unsolicited opinions and takes…just like all of the hip-hop writers for whom I hold a seething hatred, because the way things are going I only see good things in store for 2019.

Album Review: Kanye West – ye

by Dustin

kanye-west-ye-album-credits

4/10

A lot of things can and have been said about Kanye West. Many a think piece had found itself picking apart the socially reprehensible drivel to fall out of his mouth after he took the media by storm this year in a whirlwind of foolishness. Though the social impact of his ignorance is certainly an interesting topic, it has seemingly worked its way into every single review on the planet. Clicking on any discussion about his recently released ye album, and one is likely to spend more time reading political views than anything related to the music. While Kanye certainly has made himself an impossible character to wish to support, ye is for all intents and purposes a major release from one of hip-hop’s most prominent figures. For that reason alone, the music deserves to be analyzed as actual music, and not the ramblings of everyone’s favorite pariah.

With that out of the way, let’s reflect on Mr. West’s eighth solo effort.

It’s not often that the production on an album dwarfs the presence of the emcee, but this was absolutely the case with ye. Luckily for himself, Kanye can lay claim to the instrumentation on this record as well. For years, Kanye West fans have been clamouring for the controversial figure to go back to his roots of chopping samples and banging out killer instrumentation. Not long prior to the release of ye, he offered up some promising (and genuinely very good) instrumentals on Pusha T’s DAYTONA. Moving onto this project, he surprisingly kept that momentum going. The beats were good. Nothing stood out in the same way that “Santeria” did on DAYTONA, but it was some of the best production work Kanye has rapped on since My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. There was a nice blend between his signature soulful sample style from back in the day, and his more modern wavy, synthetic, bass heavy sound. It was all quite pleasing to the ear, and set the album up for what should have been an easy home-run if he could keep up on the mic; however, that didn’t really happen.

In other words, ye was an album that would have been better served to be a beat tape. Kanye proved to be his own worst enemy, as his backdrop outshone the lackluster spotlight.

Being that he has never been the most talented writer in the world, Kanye has relied pretty heavily on his charisma and personality behind the mic. Even on his weaker projects he came across as an eccentric, and there was something infectious about it. His vocal performances on ye were odd, as they lacked any semblance of this spark. Yeezy seemed disinterested and it was difficult to engage the music when he carried himself as entirely uninvested. It should be mentioned that there clearly was an attempt on Kanye’s behalf to come across as a more introspective and thoughtful writer; however, this manifested itself in tracks such as “I Thought About Killing You” and “Wouldn’t Leave,” which were extremely groan inducing and difficult to sit through. In addition to that, the adventures into braggadocio did not carry any sort of weight, as his lack of charisma couldn’t lift the mediocre writing. Regardless of the topic, most songs on here felt like gutless and redundant rehashes of things that he’s already done a hundred times in the past.

Actually, imagine the rapping on My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. Now imagine that rapping with every last drop of energy sucked out of it, leaving only the bare bones of its design. That is essentially how Kanye came across on ye. Not horrendous, just unbearably dull.

Side note, the mixing was bad. Really bad. Mike Dean has been a bit of a disaster in the technical department for a long time, and ye is no exception. Everything was muddied out, resulting in the album sounding amateurish and unfinished. For a major release, the audio quality was downright shameful.

Acknowledging Kanye’s tumultuous negative media presence wasn’t really required to walk away from ye feeling entirely empty. Though many reviewers rating it poorly have chosen to focus mostly on his personal volatility, the album from a musical standpoint offered very little to be excited about. It was encouraging to hear him knocking out enjoyable instrumentals again, but at the same time his rapping showed little improvement from the nosedive it took on Yeezus five years ago. While one would have hoped that dialing back to a 20 minute run time could have helped Kanye release a more focused product, ye felt just as rushed as The Life of Pablo in most respects. Unfortunately, it was also a lot less interesting. The manic energy of his last two projects was not to be found; instead, the final product had little identity, and felt like nothing more than a placid celebration of boredom by an artist who left his prime long ago.

Album Review: Prof – Pookie Baby

by Dustin

pookiebaby

3.75/10

A few years ago, Rhymesayers associated themselves with an artist well outside of their usual dynamic. As an addition to their roster he stuck out like a sore thumb, yet his chaotic energy charmed the fanbase quickly. This artist was Prof. The other side of the coin to Rhymesayers Entertainment’s introspective conscious rap signature. He came in boasting an arrogantly brazen offering of hyperactive shenanigans within his music. He was a debauchery driven scumbag but possessed a degree of self-awareness that broke through on moments of emotional reflection. His label debut, Liability, came in 2015 and offered an excellent helping of his range. It was a mess, but so genuinely fun that it was impossible not to love. It felt like a jumping off point into something bigger for Prof. He took time away from the studio to tour but recently returned with his new album. Pookie Baby, the record which would push the sound and success of Liability forward and prove that Prof was a true powerhouse on the label.

Except, it didn’t happen that way. Not even close.

Pookie Baby missed the mark in most ways, but the biggest element of failure was Prof’s writing. His wild, party addict, white boy shtick, which normally seems natural, came across as eye-rollingly forced. The lyrics began to be more of a nuisance than a pleasure to sit through by the thirtieth time he reminded anyone listening of how often he has sex. It was funny at first, particularly on “Send Nudes,” but at a point, Prof started to sound like a meme of himself. A broken record with no range. It was hard to listen without feeling like he had phoned the writing portion for the vast majority of the release. The wit and tongue in cheek braggadocio of past releases were hard to see. Instead, there was an appeal to the lowest common denominator with empty, repetitive lyrics. It was a letdown. Prof is capable of a lot more than he showed on Pookie Baby, but the steps backwards were too blatant to be pushed aside. Given the length of time between Liability and now, it’s reasonable to say that more could have been expected.

There’s also the aspect of vocal delivery. Prof has never been a technically talented singer, but in small doses, his voice can be a lot of fun and add a unique flair of versatility that many lack. Small doses being the key. In the case of Pookie Baby, though, the singing was far too frequent and hit a point of being completely abrasive. One or two songs featuring his trademark warbling would have been welcomed with open arms; however, when it feels like half the album is an artist overusing an already spotty singing voice to avoid having to write lyrics with more depth, there is a problem. Pookie Baby had this problem. When he opted to rap, Prof’s delivery did compensate for some of the weaker writing to a degree. It still wasn’t his best work by any means, but it was passable enough for songs like “Time Bomb” and “Action” to sound genuinely engaging. Sadly, these moments were very much the minority. Prof misused his vocal tools to the point that it hurt the record severely. It’s a shame because there were a few glimpses of that bombastic skill on the album. He just decided, for whatever reason, to put a minuscule amount of it on display.

In addition to Prof delivering vocals well below his capabilities on Pookie Baby, he received little help from the instrumentals. It was more cohesive than Liability musically but lacked the eclectic charm and character of that album’s production. It felt like a binary. Either he was rapping on top of a bouncy, upbeat trap flavored beat, or he was crooning on top of something more wavy and slow. While none of the instrumentals were inherently bad, they were generic and grew dull quickly. Prof normally has enough energy to carry weaker beats, but his complacency on Pookie Baby enabled them to stand out as mediocre. Tracks were screaming for more intricacy to help carry his performance, and it just was not there. It was another unfortunate reflection of the regression Prof displayed as an artist. His production choices were that of an individual who misunderstood his strengths and appeal, resulting in a bitterly inferior product from top to bottom.

In spite of Pookie Baby’s quality issues, it doesn’t seem fair to count Prof out entirely. As much as this was a rather significant misstep, it wasn’t bad due to deteriorated ability. It felt more like he was lost musically, and leaned heavily on his crutches to be able to flesh out an album. This has happened to many an artist over the years, and a future return to form is more than possible. Regardless this is a review, and the reality is that Pookie Baby offered little of value or interest. A couple of songs were quite amusing and might be worth spinning again, but the overall product was underwhelming at best. It just didn’t click. He’s worth keeping an eye on going forward as there’s plenty of untapped potential, but this is a project better to be left forgotten.