LordGio Speaks on Artistry, Overcoming Depression, and Open Musical Horizons

by Dustin

gio

It’s not very often that a submission to our open inbox actually catches our ears here. Generally projects are half finished, poorly put together, and underdeveloped; yet, the inbox remains open as a means for artists to put themselves out there. It stays worthwhile as every once in a while something genuinely special blows away all expectations. That was the case when Mississippi’s LordGio submitted his Heatwave Vol. 1 tape several months back. Digging into his back catologue showed a true hidden gem of an artist, and a true creative. Simply reviewing his material would have been difficult. There is no material about his backstory to provide context. It would have done any of his works a severe injustice.

That’s where we come in. We decided to sit down with LordGio and really sink into what makes him an individual. It’s a bit of a longer read, but we promise it’s well worth it. Enjoy.


EN: For those who are unaware, could you give a little background on yourself as a musician?

LordGio: Alright well, I guess technically I started with music in middle school when I was learning to play the trumpet, which I practiced all the way up until college. When it comes to rapping though, I started writing raps in 5th grade and they were pretty trash…but I guess decent for my age looking back at them? Like, I had a knack for sticking to themes, subjects and storytelling even though the wording was pretty cringey. Sometime in the 9th grade, I started being active on the website RapGenius (now Genius). I saw so many musicians on the forums and that made me realize how un-impossible this whole thing was.

I had gotten the game Rock Band in middle school and I played it pretty much every day until around the 9th grade when I didn’t really have time and I could pretty much “100%” all the songs on hard mode. I got the idea to use the microphone from the game (because it was a working USB Microphone) and use that to actually record some rapping on my favorite beats. I believe the first one I did was Low Class Conspiracy by Quasimoto.

I wrote something on the way to school and it kind of had the same subject of police brutality and was a bit of a distortion of a real life story that happened to me and looking back it’s one of the few of my old things that I’m like “eh that’s not too shabby”. I post that to the forum, asking people what they think. There wasn’t much technique or wordplay, but people appreciated the flow and storytelling and said it was pretty good besides the fact that it sounded like ass because the cheap mic and lack of mixing and mastering. However, that was enough for me to be like, “huh maybe I /can/ do this”. I started doing it more often all the while trying to improve my lyrical ability; studying hip hop way more than I did before and studying from all sorts of artists that I never listened to before. I eventually hit a bump where I was tired of looking for beats and never really finding anything that really fit what I was looking for (not to mention being too broke to afford any legitimately).

I started fiddling with the idea of just making my own beats. I tried all sorts of useless free software and made a bunch of worthless material, but each time I got better than the last and that’s all that mattered to me. I eventually landed on ableton and started getting decent enough after a while to where people said it was alright, but not to the point where I wanted to rap over it (which was the initial goal of course). I kept trying and trying and shaping and molding and changing styles until I finally made one and decided to try rapping over it. It was decent, but it sounded terrible. That was around halfway through the 10th grade…

Now I’d suffered from depression since middle school, and around this same time is where I probably hit rock bottom. I got tired of the routine (wake up, go to school, go home, repeat…replace school with college and then with work and do this until you die). I felt like life was so pointless and i just wanted to skip to the dying part, but I remember it like it was yesterday: I was in Chemistry class and I was staring out of the window looking at birds fly and wishing I could just do the same. Just be able to fly and never have to stay in the same place, and deal with the same shit over and over again. I was addicted to watching Curren$y’s Jet Life vlogs and wished I could just be on the road like that and go all over the world. So I said fuck it, that’s what I’m gonna do. I didn’t know how I was gonna do it, but I knew I was gonna do it. And I just kept getting better everyday. I didn’t even care about school anymore, nothing else mattered and music was the only thing I thought about from the time I woke up to the time I went to sleep. This shit became the only thing I’m alive for, and so I refused to let anything get in the way of it.

EN: So you got really serious about it at that point.

LordGio: Yeah. I started figuring out the formulas from watching interviews, listening to people’s firsthand accounts, soaking up any kind of knowledge, advice, and good or bad examples that I could find. I didn’t have any connections so i made myself the connection. I learned how to make beats, I learned how to mix and master, I learned how to promote myself, and most importantly, I figured out how exactly to get on and do something with this.

Enter: JELLYFISH_.

I realized that if I was ever gonna do something with this, I have to be unique. I have to have my own sound and my own image and my own brand. People need to remember me apart from everybody else that makes music. So I started a project making beats from scratch, with no real stylistic blueprint. Whereas before, I though “I’m gonna make a beat like this guy or like that guy.” I instead started JELLYFISH_ with the mindset that “I’m gonna make this beat that’s not like anything I’ve ever heard before.” I finally got enough songs that I was proud of, cut out a bunch of them, and put it on Bandcamp. Since then it’s been pretty much business as usual

That album didn’t just grant me any wishes or anything, but I’d say that was the turning point where I started realizing how to get myself on, and actually started applying it.

EN: I notice you mentioned Quasimoto. I’m assuming Madlib is one of your influences, but who else influenced and shaped your drive to produce?

LordGio: Madlib is definitely one of my primary influences. I’d say Curren$y was the one who inspired me to rap, but I remember very clearly that I wanted to start producing after I listened to Purple Naked Ladies by The Internet. Noisey had a behind the scenes interview with them at Syd and Matt’s apartment. They had simple, barebones furnishing, with eccentric lighting everywhere and a simple studio room and I was just like “this is it.” That was what I dreamed of. I imagined having a space like that and I was able (and still to this day able) to say that, if I could just wake up in a place like that everyday and just be able to and make some shit and do whatever…that was my dream.

At that time I was really into Odd Future stylistically. It was through them that I discovered guys like MF DOOM. I guess they kind of opened my ears to so many different genres and sounds. They probably inspired me to be confident enough make something as left-field and all over the place as JELLYFISH_.

Other influences though would be A Tribe Called Quest, Eric B & Rakim, the OVO collective. Artists like Three 6 Mafia, UGK and No Limit were influences from before I even started making music. Being from Mississippi that’s pretty much what I was raised on. I think those influences are starting to show a little bit more than they may have on JELLYFISH_ with this new sequel project I’m working, ANEMONE_. I should also list Flying Lotus, Hiatus Kaiyote and even Led Zeppelin to an extent. I’m influenced by a lot of stuff really [laughs], I don’t think I could make a full list.

EN: Do you believe that having a wide range of influences helped you to become more versatile as a producer going forward?

LordGio: Yeah definitely. I think having an ear for so many different genres has not only opened me up to different rhythms, chords, tones/tambres, but also different subjects or concepts that people who only listen to one style of music may not be familiar with but perhaps that they identify with personally or culturally. I think having those things that people can relate to gives them a further appreciation for my work because I show awareness of things they aren’t used to being addressed in “hip-hop.”

Speaking of that, I think having these different influences has also helped me to craft a sound that doesn’t strictly fit one genre. This allows my music to be picked up in different crowds. I’ve had people tell me that they’d never thought they would like 4/4 style dance music until they heard the second half of drip, at which point they started seeking out more. They saw that there could be stuff for them in the dance music world.

EN: Do you think it’s too limiting when artists allow themselves to be defined by a single genre right out of the gate?

LordGio: Yeah, I think it can cause problems in the long run. I don’t think Kanye ever really wanted to just be a rapper for example. I think he always intended on making projects like 808s & Heartbreak or Yeezus, but maybe we just caught him early in his creativity. I’ve noticed that there are artists who “blew up too early.” What often happens in the entertainment industry is that artists tend to be forced into the style fans discovered them with. If you look at a Kanye or an Earl Sweatshirt, you see people who suffered because they got famous for one thing, when in reality they have a lot more to offer.

I think a Tyler, the Creator is an example of when it goes right. He came in the game kind of unusual, so he had room throughout his career to completely re-invent his style because nobody knew what to expect since the beginning. I think that’s what I aim for and why I’ve grown much more patient with my career bubbling slowly. I want to build a diverse catalog before people really start looking at me, so no one has to look at future releases and feel blindsided by a change of pace.

EN: Touching on something you mentioned earlier because I’ve gone through similar things mentally. I was wondering if you could expand on the importance of music for you when dealing with depression?

LordGio: It was a lifesaver man. I grew up in a household that stood on the concept of “you’re a child, you don’t open your mouth unless spoken to. You don’t have an opinion, privacy, or a right to your own thoughts.” Looking back, that’s an unhealthy way to raise a child because it’s important for people to get these thoughts out freely and have them heard and digested rather than instantly rejected. I grew up feeling like I was alone. Like I’m the only one who thought the things that I thought and saw the things that I saw and there was something wrong with me. At some point early in childhood this, coupled with bullying at school and other things essentially made me give up on society. I still to this day (while I’m trying to work on it) feel like I can speak something clearly in English and other people react like I’m speaking another language. I just stopped saying anything.

I was left alone with these thoughts, like an open wound left to fester. Lack of self esteem turned into self hatred when I was the only one who seeing my side of things. Parents reinforced those negative thoughts that I already had. Life is only a predictable cycle of misery when shown no other path but the standard, and it fueled the inadequacy and self hatred because I don’t fall into that norm.

When you introduce the idea of writing lyrics however, this changes things a little. It introduced a space where I could write these ideas down. There is no criteria for being right or wrong; there is no “MLA format.”; there are no weird looks or uncomfortable moments; there is no misunderstanding because I know exactly what I mean by these words. When I share these ideas with strangers and they like them, they try to figure them out. Even if they’re getting it wrong, it feels like I’m not alone.

I mentioned that i first started recording music after being active on Genius. This also introduced me to many of my best friends of all time. People who were intrigued by the same art as me, even if it was for different reasons. This shows that I am truly not alone because if they completely shared my points of view, that would still feel like being alone. For their thoughts to be different takes on my own, it shows they aren’t patronizing my thoughts by pretending to share them.

Producing tacked on a whole new level to this. There’s kind of an understanding of how inefficient and ineffective spoken language can be. There are feelings and ideas that neither I, nor anyone can find the words for, but that I know other people experience. I think art is such a powerful tool because it allows us to communicate those feelings and thoughts to each other without the limitations of semantics, grammar, logic, and tone. A person can look at a painting of some splotches of color, and feel something from looking at it that they just can’t express in words; however, they know what they’re feeling, and it’s so strange because that feeling can be so much different than what the artist felt or even what the next viewer will feel.

Producing music is my painting. I have this freedom to put sounds here and there, like colors from my palette. Sounds that I create, sounds that I cut out and re-use because they’re familiar to me.

This limitless nature of sounds shows me that maybe life isn’t a predictable cycle. If nothing else, I can at least count on the idea that there are no railroad tracks constraining me musically. I applied this to life and realized that the railroad is only there if I want it to be. We’re told to drive on the road and that works for many people, but the truth is that we’re perfectly free to pull over and walk into the woods. If I wander around the woods long enough I may find other campers like me who have the techniques and supplies to help me survive. Alternatively, I could kick the bucket before I find these people, but that’s okay with me as long as I’m able to roam freely with the imagination of something being out there. It gives life meaning and a reason for me to press on and keep waking up for the next chapter.

EN: Do you think that, in general, we (be that author, musician, average person, whoever) need to be more open about mental illness? I know for many, particularly for individuals in poorer communities, there is a “don’t ask, don’t tell” mindset around it. I know you mentioned experiencing something like that with your family, so I’m very interested in your thoughts about how the discourse needs to change.

LordGio: That’s it exactly! There’s a cycle in poorer communities that “we have bigger things to worry about than mental health,” but that only creates further problems. We tell our kids that they don’t have anything to be upset about, which teaches them to disregard their emotions in unhealthy ways. It ends up warping their view of the world and causing them to develop more bad habits or commit harmful acts to themselves or others as an outlet.

Then as adults we reject the idea of seeking therapy, even amongst ourselves via honest dialogue because “these bills are more important” or “there’s nothing wrong with me.” Our kids see this, and it adds to the stigma around mental illness.

Unfortunately, the famous people who are more honest with their personal issues and struggles are seen as alternative, strange, or downright taboo to individuals in these communities too.

EN: I appreciate your openness on these subjects, thank you. Moving back into your music a little bit, your last project had some work with other vocalists if I remember correctly. What’s it like to work with the idea of having someone else perform on your track?

LordGio: It’s really exciting because when I’m making a song – whether it has lyrics or not – I kind of have this whole central idea of the song when listening. But then when I’m collaborating with people it’s interesting to see that the song could evoke a totally different or eerily similar feeling in them. It’s also exciting when I’m mixing or editing their vocals and they get that same sort of feeling.

EN: Would you like to expand further into working with other artists on their own material, or do you prefer to work mostly on your solo releases?

LordGio: I do prefer to work mostly on my solo releases, but I also want to have collaborative projects with people. My JELLYFISH_ album is part of a three part series and they’re all going to be self produced and have no features, but I’m always excited to have collaborations on other projects.

I also want to collaborate with artists of different mediums. I have this video out right now called “eyes(n)ears” that depicts me playing a set while a line artist I met does a live-draw outside a local art museum. We’re gonna be looking to do it again in different places.

But expanding on that, I’m interested in doing work on video games, anime, and independent film. I have fragments of ideas for short films, but I want to focus on my music first before I take on another medium.

EN: That seems like a very unexplored territory for younger producers. The only producer that immediately jumps to mind for soundtracking video games is Doseone. Do you think producing for other artists is a skill that’s highly transferable to scoring for a game or movie? I mean that in the sense that you’re basically having to bring someone else’s ideas to life rather than your own.

LordGio: Yeah, the only one I can think of in video games is C418 who made the Minecraft soundtrack. But yeah, it’s the same as that whole collaboration aspect where I think it would be cool to create my own interpretation of that artist’s vision. There’s usually more functional soundtracks, but then there’s those like Minecraft, or anime like Cowboy Bebop, FLCL, and Samurai Champloo, where the soundtrack composer approached it with the functionality taking a backseat but while still fitting within the aesthetic of the whole production. That’s where you have projects whose soundtracks can arguably stand alone as their own pieces. This often times enhances the project as a whole, because it can reinforce the emotions evoked from the writing or the visuals.

That’s the kind of thing I would want to work on, as I tend to find myself struggling when I try to do more strict and conventional work.

EN: To close, I’d like to ask a question that often gets asked to people who’ve made it to huge levels of fame; however, I always think the answer is more interesting when discussing it with smaller independant artists. If you were to sit down and talk with someone who was just learning to produce – as in they’re completely new to music as a whole – what would be the advice you’d give?
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LordGio: It would probably be that there’s no right way to do this. Lots of people are gonna feel like you’re doing it wrong, because either you’re not using the traditional techniques or because you’re not doing the state-of-the-art new techniques. The truth is, art has no blueprint. There’s no tried and true route to creating art, otherwise it wouldn’t be art. I look on the internet from time to time and see a lot of people asking what tools they should use, whether hardware is better than software, and whether sampling, sound design, or the use of live instrumentation is better. The truth is it could be any combination of those things that makes a great project, or it could just be one. Either way, use what you can get your hands on because it makes for a more interesting story when you came across a tool or material by chance and figured out how to make sounds with it especially if it’s something nobody ever considers using.

So yeah, there’s no right or wrong way. Don’t listen to the old people or the hipsters. Don’t listen to the little kids or the hypebeasts. Just make what feels right.

Qualchan’s Mixtape: Songs for Turning Up

by Qualchan

crazyeyes

Dustin asked me to do a second installment, so here I am – songs for turning up. Don’t “at” me on some fuck-shit over one of these dudes being goofy, or your favorite rapper not being included. Do some drugs and get lost. I’ll keep this short and to the point. The Hemingway of trap.

For those who haven’t left, here’s the playlist. Strap in.

  1. Playboi Carti – Location: Playboi Carti has put out the best album of the year so far in my opinion. This beat from Harry Fraud goes the fuck in.
  2. Xxxtentacion – Let’s Pretend We’re Numb: What do I even say…I’ve been on this cat since summer of 2016. This is an older song of his. Enjoy.
  3. Ski Mask the Slump God – Planet Drool (feat. Xxxtentacion): I had Ski Mask in my last list as well. He and Xxxtentacion are set to take over the industry.
  4. Rico Recklezz – Famous: My man Rico Recklezz is a Chiraq savage who dropped the hardest beat of the year.
  5. Higher Brothers – YAHH! (feat. J. Mag): Higher Brother have put out two lit at fuck collabs recently, this and “Made in China.” They’re definitely an act to watch out for this year.
  6. Sumo – Regular (Remix): Sumo is good, but his style is kinda everywhere right now. Once he finds his own voice this guy will be unstoppable. Pay attention.
  7. Go Yayo – Knock Knock (feat. G$ Lil Ronnie): G$ Lil Ronnie has been around for a minute now and I had Go Yayo in my last playlist. Yhis is his year. Texas is on the come up as a region.
  8. Famous Dex – Shooters: I think at this point everyone has some kind of opinion on Famous Dex. The last few months have been rough for him, so let’s go back to the golden era of Dex. Back to summer of 2k15. “Shooters” brings the heat.
  9. Syringe – I Don’t Like You: Syringe is part of the new wave of mumble rap, where more emphasis is placed on turning up on a few Xanax than spitting bars. He may not have a lot to say, but that beat is hard.
  10. Kay P – Blood Flow Down My Wrist: Kay P is dope. “Blood Flow Down My Wrist” is the perfect jam for rolling around with the windows down.
  11. Blake – Flexin: This is an an older song from Blake, but this cat is slept on.
  12. Rarri – What Dey Seem: Rarri brings the fire for summer cookouts.
  13. Lucki – No Work: Finally, a short one from Lucki to close out the set. “No Work” is a great song for the comedown.

Happy listening.

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/

Rajin Rambles: I Am Not a Dusthead!

by Rajin

RajinLikesDustLowkey

I love Snoop Dogg’s new “Mount Kushmore” single (which features Redman, B-Real, and Method Man). The production is in a beautiful throwback G-funk style that is impossible to not bob your head to. Each emcee laces his verse with witty rhymes and a slick, grin-inducing vocal performance. It gives you essentially everything that you’d want out of a collaboration with these ’90’s legends.

Now as I was listening to the song earlier and thinking all of that, something occurred to me. I think I tend to give off a vibe where I’m exclusively about ’90’s hip hop/rappers who are currently in their mid-40s. I started to feel a lot like a stereotype – like a nostalgia-hunting “real” hip hop head. In the year and two months of my piss-poor pieces on this site, I don’t think I’ve ever really discussed younger rappers. I go back and notice that at most I’ve mentioned Kendrick Lamar a couple of times, and maybe Danny Brown a few times. Well, to be fair my first article is about Prof, who’s basically the soundtrack to the weekend of a guy in his mid-twenties running around getting drunk and fucking anything that moves. However, most of my pieces tend to talk about and gush over guys who tend to come be from the ’90’s era of hip hop (and primarily from the east coast, at that).

I want to make it abundantly clear right now, in case I haven’t done so yet: I’m not someone who acts as though this generation of rappers isn’t as good as rappers from the ‘90s. My tendency to generally talk about older hip hop artists rather than new ones stems from me listening to them longer and knowing them a lot more in-depth than newer rappers coming out. I also have a habit of being turned onto artists late; I’ve mentioned before how it happened with Run The Jewels.

After all of this, I started thinking about something that comes to mind all the time when thinking about the current state of rap music…although, thankfully it seems like less of an issue as time goes on, so this piece may be rendered pointless in a few years’ time. Regardless, I feel like this fetishization of the ’90’s is pretty counterproductive to the development of the genre. I’ve sort of discussed this in the past, but I want to get a little more specific with it for a moment. People tend to use the stereotypical modern styles of trap and mumble rap that get pushed by hip hop publications for easy clicks as a scapegoat for why they refuse to listen to anyone who came out past the early ’00’s. Not to take anything away from those styles of music, but there’s a whole lot more that my generation has to offer than just that. Demonizing those styles gives them overblown and unwarranted levels of hatred, and it neglects and dismisses the music that other young rappers come with, which is completely unfair.

Take Joey Bada$$ for example. He’s a couple of months younger than I am, only 22 years old. He’s probably somebody that most fans of old school hip hop would love to listen to, since he started his career making rugged boom bap music reminiscent of guys like Nas or Black Moon. Doing this awakened the nostalgia in people, and got people interested in what he had in store to “bring hip hop back” (I don’t know if anyone actually said that, I’m just assuming).

Now, I’ve actually seen criticisms, by fans, thrown at Joey’s new All-AmeriKKKan Bada$$ album because people are talking about how he’s going pop on it. The thing is, he’s not. He’s just setting the more hardcore boom bap style aside to grow into his own artist with the message he wants to spread. He’s maturing. He’s certainly not abandoning that style; he’s just putting a new style to the forefront, and toying with more modern styles at places. But when you mess with the nostalgia factor that attracted people to your music, you risk upsetting them.

You start off with boom-bap. Over time, that changes a bit, and people get upset. They cling onto what they are familiar with, and decry what starts coming out afterwards, as opposed to looking to see what will come next. This is what is happening to Joey Bada$$ (on a small scale, overall his album has been received pretty well. I certainly liked it), and it’s what has happened to hip hop as a whole.

Speaking of younger rappers who may incite some feelings of nostalgia, let’s talk about Oddisee. Oddisee is essentially the spiritual successor to groups such as A Tribe Called Quest and De La Soul, with some Black Milk thrown in for good measure. He has clearly studied their styles and adapted them for his own, making music that is similarly jazzy and positive. However, he doesn’t make music that emulates the music that he grew up listening to, but rather, it sounds like the next logical step that those groups would/should take. His music is probably what those groups would sound like if they debuted in 2012. He’s innovating in that style, for better or worse. And that’s not to mention his actual emceeing ability, which is arguably at a higher level than anyone in Tribe or De La, due to the natural progression of hip hop pushing the requirements for being an exceptional emcee further (Important: Please note that I am not saying that he is more iconic or is a better act than Tribe or De La).

Another one who you could look at is Jonwayne, who brings to mind Biggie as far as his charisma and vocal delivery go (not to mention his physique). However, he’s got a totally different lyrical style and vibe, speaking on problems that many of us in our twenties can relate to, such as alcohol abuse when things feel like they’re going too fast and you’re falling into a pit (I can personally attest to that). He frames it in a way that no rapper that I’ve heard from the ’90’s has been able to, because that sort of vulnerability in hip hop didn’t fly in that time period.

And then there are guys who don’t necessarily bring to mind older acts. Flatbush Zombies are from the same area that Joey Bada$$ is from (surprisingly, Flatbush), yet they sound nothing like him. They have some NY flavor in their music, but they sprinkle in some trip hop and trap. They have taken influence from tried and true styles and mixed it with what is going on nowadays to create really unique music that could not have existed in the past, while remaining something that I think any old school hip hop fan who doesn’t write off modern music could enjoy. Or there’s Milo, who goes even more into an alternative and abstract direction, with distorted and synthesized keyboards and a laid back yet still slightly aggressive method of rapping.

This list, honestly, could keep going on, but I think I’ve made my point by now. There is a plethora of music still coming out these days by newer, young artists, who are either pushing forward with older styles and innovating in those lanes, or are trying completely new styles entirely. You just need to know where to look, and put in the work rather than dismiss hip hop today entirely. Thankfully I have Dustin, who does the work for me and forces artists onto me.

I don’t know. Maybe what I’m saying is really repetitive. Maybe I’m just a sensitive, triggered millennial snowflake. I certainly don’t want to sound preachy or anything. I just wanted to voice the opinion that this generation has rappers who are truly worth listening to, beyond the obvious picks such as Kendrick Lamar. Most people know this, but all too often I will go onto a webpage talking about an older rapper and will see a discouraging amount of people disparaging current-day hip hop. I don’t think it’s a healthy mindset.

While I’m not at all fan of Lil Yachty in even the slightest, I think he’s well within his rights to say some of the things he says when he gets criticized incessantly. It’s the same as when parents tell their kids “oh you kids have it so easy, in my day…” (I normally tune out after I hear the beginning of that sentence). It seems like people constantly need to be reminded that like all other generations of music of any style, this generation has a plenty for everyone. And like all other generations of music of any style, this generation has plenty of bad music as well. People just don’t like remember the bad music that was released in the past.

I primarily wanted to write this up really quickly today to assuage my fears of being someone who’s musically stuck in the past (that’s not to say that there’s anything wrong with that! Like what you like and don’t be ashamed about it – just don’t be close-minded), but the overarching message I guess I want to get across is that disregarding the new because you think you don’t like it without doing some digging makes no sense. It’s certainly not something that I would want to do, as it would work against me as a contributor to this site, and as a person. By nature I’m a very stubborn, stuck-in-my-ways person, but I try my hardest to be as open as I can be. I think if everyone who says hip hop died in the mid-‘00’s tried too, they could find some stuff that they really like.

Album Review: Kendrick Lamar – DAMN.

by Dustin

damn

4/10

There are two things hip-hop fans get excited for every couple of years: a Kendrick Lamar release, and the Anthony Fantano review of the aforementioned Kendrick Lamar release. Two years after the release of his masterpiece record To Pimp a Butterfly, K. Dot has returned to the forefront of rap with his new album DAMN. This was an exciting release first and foremost because Kendrick has been on one hell of a hot streak since he smashed through with Good Kid, Maad City. Two amazing albums and an amazing collection of rough tracks launched him into mega-stardom. Who could blame fans for getting their hopes up? With such an amazing track record, you’d be safe to assume that Kendrick was going to drop another album of gold, right?

Wrong. This is not a good album. DAMN. is actually painfully underwhelming, and this is for a variety of reasons.

Let’s start by talking about the rapper himself. Unlike on his last two albums, Kendrick Lamar sounds scarily disinterested throughout the majority of DAMN. Though it is conceivable that his delivery choices were used to emphasize the overall tone of defeat and depression, they just came across as uninspired. His usual plethora of voices, inflections, and flows was replaced instead with a muddy, slow, and monotone delivery most of the time. His writing isn’t terrible throughout (although he did struggle to piece together a consistent concept even slightly), but it’s hard to even care about what’s being said, because it’s being delivered in such an uninteresting way.

Even worse is Kendrick’s singing throughout DAMN. For whatever reason, he decided that he wanted to sing a whole bunch on this album. Now, he doesn’t have the worst singing voice in the world, but it gets grating really fast. The song “LOVE.” is especially guilty of this, and probably one of the worst songs to be released by a major hip-hop artist in the last five years.

Perhaps the most jarring change on DAMN. compared to Kendrick’s previous work though is the defeatist mentality. The overarching idea that his struggles as a human are due him straying from God’s message – though left fairly ambiguous throughout the record – can be tiring. The moodiness is far removed from the hood documentary narrative on Good Kid, Maad City and pride inspiring social awareness on To Pimp a Butterfly. It feels like an album attributing every injustice against minority groups as an act of God, to serve as punishment for these groups losing their godly roots. This is particularly clear in the multiple references to Book of Deuteronomy. It feels incredibly out of character to hear this sort of broken, defeated, mindset on DAMN.; though it may have been able to work as a concept if executed better, this record is far too scattered for it to have any sort of poignancy.

Plus it honestly seems damaging to blame these issues on a higher power. It takes away the importance of fighting the societal issues which allow these injustices to happen. Kendrick, who has presented himself as a very socially aware human to this point, should know better than this. Why push an album working directly against the causes you’ve backed? It doesn’t make sense.

The production on DAMN., to put it lightly, is absolutely terrible. There are maybe three beats throughout its run-time that don’t feel like stale rehashes of gutless trap bangers and RnB backtracks. It’s really evident when you start to compare this album to his last two full-length releases. It feels as though Kendrick has stepped down two or three tiers of beat selection, and it is really quite disappointing. Sure, “DNA.” is a monstrous track and 9th Wonder’s contribution to “DUCKWORTH.” is gorgeous, but two instrumentals couldn’t salvage the whole record. Honestly, with better attention paid to instrumental selection DAMN. could have been a significantly better album. It’s easier to look past conceptual and vocal flaws when the rest of the album sounds nice. DAMN. does not sound nice. Not even slightly.

He even managed to pick a boring Alchemist beat. When you’re using Alchemist as a producer, picking a bad beat should be a difficult thing to do; however, in this particular instance he picked a seven minute instrumental with the same short sample playing repeatedly. It would have sounded great on a shorter song, but it was used on a marathon. After the second minute it loses all appeal instantaneously.

In spite of these issues, DAMN. is a record with a few bright spots. The song “DNA.” shines the hardest with its infectious energy and absurdly smooth Kendrick flows. It definitely seemed to be the initial standout. “DUCKWORTH.” is also a very solid track with an interesting (albeit odd) story and one of the few nice instrumentals.

Unfortunately, like most iconic musicians, this album’s critical reception will be highly inflated by Kendrick’s hype-beast status. Reviews dropping near minutes after its release were trigger-happy to drop another perfect score. Reading fan discussion proves quickly that this is a highly polarizing package of music. Honestly, listen to the record and form your own thoughts and opinions on it. You’d probably be better off picking up the new Oddisee or Quelle Chris, but DAMN. is definitely one of those albums that you’ll need to experience for yourself to see where you stand.

We can all agree that the album art is horrible though. Every single human on earth can agree with that.

EP Review: Spocka Summa – The Progression 001

by Dustin

progression

8/10

It has been an abysmal month as far as producing new content on Extraordinary Nobodies. Between everybody here drowning under a mountain of work, school, illness, life, more illness, and general procrastination, April has been… underwhelming. This review, for example, was supposed to be released nearly a month ago. Then a bunch of things happen, and instead, it is coming out now. In the middle of April. Yes.

Moving on.

Spocka Summa was introduced to us by Michael at FilthyBroke Recordings. And for that alone we have to say thank you to Michael, because holy shit, this guy is a creative force to keep an eye on. Following a conceptual theme (more on this later), The Progression 001 is an immense listen packed into a short and sweet extended play. It’s even available for free streaming on his SoundCloud. We had no idea what to expect with this record, as (unfortunately) Spocka wasn’t a household name for our writing staff yet. Now he is, and here is a little bit on why he caught our attention.

First and foremost, Spocka Summa himself on The Progression 001 is a very interesting emcee. He’s got a natural charisma about him that really helps carry his delivery. From a technical standpoint he may not be the flashiest, but his lyrics are solid (and more importantly they stick closely to the concept of the EP, big ups for that) and he has some vocal flair. His storytelling abilities far exceed that of many underground emcees. Honestly, it is hard to analyze his performance on The Progression 001 without spoiling bits and pieces of the story being created. To keep it short, sweet, and spoiler free. He did well. Very, very well.

We’re not going to quote lyrics either, because that would be spoilers. Listen to the damn EP, ya’ bums. It’s not long, and it’s worth it!

The production on this EP is really consistently sturdy. There isn’t anything overly experimental or ambitious, but the beats are very nice. The Last Child (who produced the entirety of The Progression 001) has a sound that blends eastern sounding boom-bap with the west’s lighter sounding beat scene, creating a vibe that nearly anyone could vibe with. The amount of variation in the instrumentation was actually quite surprising for such a short extended play. For example, “001” sounds like something straight from the alt-Los Angeles scene, and then “What the Hell” plays like a soundtrack to a Spiderman boss level on the PlayStation 2 (in the best way imaginable). Despite this wide range of sounds and artistic influences, the production works well together and suits the concept of the project nicely; moreover, the range of flavors help create an incredibly engaging listening environment on The Progression 001.

It’s also notable how the EP progresses sonically throughout its duration. The instrumentation (and in turn, rapping) is much lighter and happier at the beginning. By the end, it has twisted itself into a darker, heavier piece of music. This was a lovely addition to the changing mood, and really helped to drive home the storytelling. The decision to stick with one producer for every song was quite smart.

This EP is additionally coupled with a comic book released on Spocka’s website. The book is only a few pages long at the present, but is an interesting and ambitious DIY effort to extend the story in his music. Similar to much of The Progression 001, it is topically focused on breaking away from technological dependence and the dangers of placing too much trust in multiple forms of media. These concepts are presented in a very interesting futuristic dystopian setting. The visual art is not “professional” levels of perfect, but it’s relatively solid, visually appealing, and quite endearing to see someone attempting to turn their music into a comic.

Plus, if you think about it, hip-hop and comic books have been intertwined forever. From MF DOOM’s levels of comic villain nerdiness to the marvel comic hip-hop cover variants. This is a classic pairing, and Spocka Summa has continued to push that envelope forward.

Overall, The Progression 001 is a very cool EP and the prospect of it feeding into further releases in the future is quite promising. Much like Blueprint’s Vigilante Genesis extended play from last year, the short-format works marvelously for serialized stories. Taking that idea and merging it with a comic book added a little creative flair that helps set this apart from its contemporaries. The Progression 001 is well worth a listen, especially if you enjoy dystopian themed music.

Rajin Rambles: Personal Top 20 Rappers (Part 2: 10 to 1)

by Rajin

list1

Welcome to part two of my top 20 rappers list. Last week in part one, I covered slots 11 to 20. You can check it out here in case you missed it. I’m going to be covering slots 1 through 10 this week, if it wasn’t already obvious. Sorry in advance.


10. Scarface
Favorite album: The Fix
Favorite song: “It’s Not A Game”
Scarface has my favorite voice in hip hop. Aside from it being exquisitely deep, it conveys layers and layers of pain and frustration in a way not many others in hip hop do. The soul that Face puts behind his voice is almost overwhelming at times. Face’s music (both solo and as part of the Geto Boys) was quite different from what most rappers were doing at the time. While tons of rappers went around trying to make you believe that they were crazy because they killed people, Face was dealing with psychosis and bipolar disorder, successfully convincing the listener that he was indeed unwell. Not to mention, he is one of the most consistent rappers as far as his albums go. Album to album (as far as his actual LPs go, not the My Homies projects) he doesn’t have any that are really glaringly bad. His solo career spans over 25 years, so to be an artist with that sort of longevity where more often than not a listener already knows any album that comes out is going to be good is a hell of an achievement.

9. Sean Price
Favorite album: Mic Tyson
Favorite song: “Jail Shit” (featuring Rock)
I don’t really know what I can say about P that hasn’t been said in excess in the last 2 years. I got into him through Random Axe, as I was (and still am, of course) really into Black Milk. Immediately Sean stood out to me, which is already an impressive feat, given the fact that he was rapping next to Guilty Simpson. It took me until the summer months of 2015 immediately preceeding his death to actually get out of my rut and listen to his solo discography and the first Heltah Skeltah album.

Sean was a skilled rhymer but he wasn’t a “rappity rapper” and never once pretended to be. He relied on the content of what he was saying, and how he said it. Everything that Sean said sounded tough, especially as he aged and his voice got rougher. He had a vibrant sense of humor, but he always kept his lyrics grounded by being able to sound threatening when saying something hilarious. This skill really developed when he started his solo career. As Ruck he would often have standout verses but when he started rapping under his government name, it was like he became himself to the fullest, and it created something special. He saved Duck Down nearly single handedly, and once you listen to Monkey Barz there is no confusion as to how he did it.

8. Ice Cube
Favorite album: AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted
Favorite song: “Hello” (featuring MC Ren & Dr. Dre)
I really wanted to start this off with a very dated “Are We There Yet” joke but I couldn’t bring myself to do it.

Anyways, Cube is arguably the most essential “political” rapper. While what he rapped about wasn’t strictly about politics, he included a ton of social commentary in his music that brought to light the struggles of living in Compton. He spoke about street life in an incredibly descriptively. Not in a typical story-telling way, mind you. It was more in how he said what he was saying. His delivery was aggressive and he generally wrote from a point of view perspective, so his stories were more like his inner thoughts during his experiences rather than him just recounting what he’s been through. It was a revolutionary style, as (to my knowledge) most storytelling in hip hop was based on rappers speaking on past experiences rather than acting out events as though they were currently happening. Cube was also one of the first ultra-aggressive rappers that I can think of. He took the aggression displayed by acts like Public Enemy and elevated it to a whole new level, often shouting at the top of his lungs. He channeled passion and anger into his music like no one before him, being a clear influence on other passionate rappers such as 2Pac, Eminem, and Killer Mike.

7. Raekwon
Favorite album: Only Built 4 Cuban Linx…
Favorite song: “Criminology” (featuring Ghostface Killah)
Raekwon arguably has the greatest solo debut album in all of hip hop history. Only Built 4 Cuban Linx… is a beautifully done concept album. It established himself as one of the greatest storytellers to grace hip hop, which is something that has not changed in the entirety of his career. He is with a raspy delivery that makes him sound like a grizzled vet telling stories of his war days, and the ability to make anything sound dramatic via hyperbolic analogy and unheard-of slang. In addition, with Only Built 4 Cuban Linx… Pt. II, he managed to do what no other rapper has been able to do by getting good post-Wu-Tang Forever RZA beats pulling off the “sequel to a classic” that so many try but ultimately come up short on.

While he has struggled with a few of his non-Cuban Linx albums, albums such as Shaolin Vs. Wu-Tang and The Wild, have managed to be very enjoyable releases. The thing about Rae is that his skills have never shown any sign of declining. While some of his albums have been underwhelming, his rapping has never been the weak point of any project he’s been involved in. To this day he is perhaps the only person who can say some of the ridiculous stuff he says and have it sound carelessly, luxuriously cool.

6. Rakim
Favorite album: Don’t Sweat The Technique (with Eric B.)
Favorite song: “When I B On The Mic”
There is not a single rapper in this day and age who doesn’t have Rakim in his or her DNA. His influence on hip hop very often taken for granted these days. I don’t think most in my generation even give it a second though. However, if anybody cares about hip hop in the slightest, they need to always keep in mind: Rakim completely changed the writing style in hip hop. Before Rakim, rap music was NOT the writing-driven genre that it is now. He broke past the simplistic rhythms and rhymes, and brought the concept of the multi-syllabic rhyme, complex vocabulary, and laid-back delivery (used to put the main focus on listening to words rather than vibing to the mood) to the table.
There’s really not much else for me to say. Aside from the originators, Rakim is hands-down the most important figure in hip hop for his essentially ubiquitous influence on the genre.

5. Black Thought
Favorite album: How I Got Over (by The Roots)
Favorite song: “When The People Cheer”
Black Thought is one of maybe 3 rappers I can think of who have gotten consistently better with each passing year of their career without exception. There’s really not much more that I can say past that, either. He started out as a good emcee, but nothing really special, and matured like scotch in a barrel for the next decade and a half until he became someone whose verses were jaw-dropping. His delivery got more powerful as his voice changed with age, his flow got more impressive, his pen got sharper…he took his time and became something special. He had room to grow and he took full advantage of it, then burst past it. And this is a smooth curve upwards. There has been no discrepancies whatsoever. He’s become the rapper where it’s almost annoying how you already know he’s going to steal the show on a song with someone else and it won’t even be a contest. It’s awesome.

4. Pharoahe Monch
Favorite album: Desire
Favorite song: “Agent Orange”
As half of Organized Konfusion, Pharoahe Monch was vastly ahead of his time. He was using flows that I don’t think anybody else at the time had even conceived. To this day, they sound fresh, and some of them actually still sound ahead of our time now. He broke his flow up, fell into non-traditional pockets, rhymed like a maniac, and told very creative stories alongside Prince Po, such as speaking from the point of view about a fetus that is about to be aborted on “Invetro” and of course, speaking as a bullet on “Stray Bullet” (the beginning of the trilogy that would also include “When The Gun Draws” and “Damage”, both solo Pharoahe songs). As a solo artist he unfortunately suffered from Rawkus’ complete inability to function as a label with even C-grade management, with uncleared samples in “Simon Says” halting the production of Internal Affairs (making it a very expensive album to buy these days, one that will probably be my most treasured CD when I can afford to buy it). He has since recovered, however, and has released several great projects since then. He continues his own personal innovation, both conceptually and musically. To my recollection he’s looking to start a band. If it ends up happening, I’m very interested to see where he goes next.

3. Redman
Favorite album: Dare Iz A Darkside
Favorite song: “Noorotic”
Redman is potentially the most charismatic emcee that I have ever heard. Since his appearance on the Hit Squad song “Headbanger,” Red has had an infectious delivery, off-kilter flow, and ridiculously funny lyrical style that immediately made him stand out. His flow, along with that of fellow Hit Squad members Das EFX, seemed to signal the end of the stereotypical simple ‘80s flow and rigid delivery, as he played with different patterns and sounded much looser, yet more dynamic. He threw one-liners out like they were nothing, and spent no time on letting them sit before moving on to the next one to keep the listener engaged and entertained the entire time one of his songs was being played. Being that he was a student of EPMD, he has always had a funky sound to his music. Whut? Thee Album is quite possibly the funkiest east coast album ever made; it sounded almost like the east’s response to the growing popularity of g-funk in the west, done with a rougher edge that tends to come with the east sound.

Red’s charisma has allowed him to do what lots of other boom bap-heavy rappers from the early ‘90s hasn’t been able to, and he has made his sound still feel fresh, even while doing very little to change his overall vibe; Due to his utterly buoyant personality, he can make beats that could be classified as dated sound current, and these days he’s begun to feel like that stoner uncle who relentlessly cracks jokes every time you see him..

2. Ghostface Killah
Favorite album: Supreme Clientele
Favorite song: “Mighty Healthy”
Album for album, Ghostface Killah is the most consistent rapper of all time. Out of 12 albums, he’s released only one that I didn’t feel a majority of tracks on, that being Ghostdini: The Wizard of Poetry.

Since the beginning of his career, Ghost has had a way with words that nobody else from Wu-Tang Clan has, besides maybe Raekwon. The way Ghost writes, it’s almost like he can’t help himself but tell stories and paint pictures. It’s almost like his default, which is something I don’t think I can say for any other rapper. He’s absurdly descriptive, and the dynamic nature of his delivery just adds to it. His delivery is just so powerful; it’s part of what separated him from the rest of the Wu-Tang Clan. It’s a lot more soulful than that of any of the other members, and it allows him to express vulnerability and passion just as easily as it does anger and toughness like the rest of the group. This ability serves to further engage the listener in the stories that he tells by making it more relatable and playing our sympathies, as well as exhibit a huge amount of diversity in his music.
The way his artistry has matured is very commendable too. He has matured far better than how most other rappers do, because he’s allowed his style to grow more thoughtful the same way a person should as they age. His albums since Twelve Reasons To Die have all displayed an evolution into a more cinematic style, done as though the producers aren’t just producing albums, but rather scoring movies, and he’s reciting scripts rather than lyrics. While they may not match his classics Ironman, Supreme Clientele, and Fishscale, it is the perfect direction for him to go in.

1. Eminem
Favorite album: The Marshall Mathers LP
Favorite song: “The Way I Am”
Surprise.
Everyone knows Em. There’s no need to go in depth. In his prime he was the sharpest, wittiest rapper I have ever heard. I don’t think another rapper has ever had a run like he did from 1999-2002. Since returning from a mid-to-late ‘00s slump due to opiate abuse, he managed to once again make good albums like Recovery, Hell: The Sequel with Royce, and The Marshall Mathers LP 2 (which does not deserve its title, no matter how much I love the music). There is absolutely no telling where he’s going next, which is both exciting and terrifying.


And that’s that. You probably could have guessed most of those, based off what I’ve written in the past, but now my top 20 list is official…at least for the next couple of days before it changes, like it did even during the process of writing these pieces.