Apu Rambles: Sex, Money, & Drugs

by Apu (yeah, he’s alive)

rhh

Well shit, it’s been a while. I’m sure most of the readers of this little blog here were pretty happy with not having the site polluted with my awfulness for the last 3 months or so…I really just didn’t have any motivation to write anything. Maybe it’s because I mentally checked out after school ended, and now that I’m back in a course I’ve got more activity happening in my brain, thus creating the desire to write. Although the more likely explanation for my writing tonight is probably liquor. Regardless, I’ve got something new for you to read and roll your eyes at. Although it might be shorter than normal so there’s that.

As I may or may not have talked about at some point in any one of my fairly insignificant additions to this blog, I started listening to hip hop music around the time of Youtube’s creation. It was pretty good for me, as a person who had next to nobody to discuss hip hop music with. I spent a lot of time on Youtube looking for more music to listen to. At the beginning, I spent my time listening to a lot of Eminem and D-12. Over the next couple of years I did branch out to others like 2Pac, Nas, and others who I could list if I didn’t want to just shut up and get on with my story. While viewing videos (which were usually just audio with stills of incorrect album covers) by the artists I was listening to, I would find myself going down into the comment section. I started to notice a certain pattern in the comments to the artists I was listening to. There would be one comment that would almost always pop up. It’s a statement that I have nightmares about that involve knives, lube, and Mountain Dew. It’s what you’ll probably see coming from “real hip hop” heads. It’s toxic.

“He raps about real life and struggle, not bitches, drugs, and money like everyone else does!”

Jesus Christ, I hate myself for just typing that.

Now, I’m not going to lie and say I didn’t agree with that for a period of time. For a good 3 or 4 years I had that same sort of mindset. But now that I’m not a shitty 15 year old kid anymore, I realize how stupid it is to not listen to some rappers or songs because they’re not meaningful.

NOT EVERYTHING NEEDS TO HAVE MEANING TO IT.

Crazy, right?

I don’t know. I guess I understand the reasoning behind the idea that music needs to be deep. A lot of the time when I’m in a shitty mood (so most of the time) it’s nice to listen to something with a message behind it that I can relate to. Actually, it’s also pretty nice to listen to a song that I can’t relate to, but can still feel bitter over. It sort of validates the way I’m feeling or the way I think I’d feel if I were in a certain situation. It creates a sort of bond between listener and artist that makes the listener feel like he or she (hooray for gender equal descriptions!) is less alone. I get it. I’ve felt that, plenty of times. It’s definitely something that should be encouraged, as it’s almost a more intimate bond than any friendship or other sorts of relationships can create, because it’s your own raw emotion that you can feel and express without any fear of judgement from others, since there’s nobody else involved in listening to a song. I can’t tell you how often I will sometimes randomly just get misty-eyed for no reason, just because I’m still not the most mentally healthy person in the world and I hear something in music that triggers a raw emotional response.

However (I’ll say it again for extra emphasis since I’m terrible at getting my point across with all the tangents I can’t help but take), that doesn’t mean that all music needs to have a meaning to it. Far from it, actually.

Remember when I did that article on Prof and mentioned how I was going through shit? One of the reasons I gravitated towards Prof almost exclusively for 4 months or so is because he made a tone of ignorant music that I could just listen to, chill to, chuckle to, and ignore my pain to. Sure, Prof releases a lot of emotional shit. “A Month From Now” still puts me in a trance every time I listen to it, and it’s been at least 3 months since I first discovered it. But a lot of the time, I’ll throw on “Apeshit” or “Roughneck” when I’m feeling shitty instead. I don’t need to constantly be reminded how fucked up my mood is by listening to a song that matches it. Sometimes I need to just listen to something that has absolutely nothing to do with anything, just because it’s fun. How does keeping myself down with sad and dark music help me in any way move on?

Whatever happened to “laughter is the best medicine”? Does that suddenly stop applying when it comes to hip hop? This genre is absolutely incredible and I’ll love it forever, but I swear, some of the fans are just fucking idiots. It’s like they want to wallow in their own misery with the artists they listen to, or reinforce the fact that the world is totally and completely screwed and that we’re headed towards destruction (a topic that I can probably talk about forever, but doesn’t apply to this piece much more than that one sentence).

I don’t know where this “ugh this has no substance” mindset came from, and I wish I did. Not everything needs to make you think. I don’t really care if my opinion on this matter makes me come off as even stupider than you all probably already thought I was, but I’d rather read if I wanted to think (and trust me, I read plenty, I love reading). People can tell me that’s retarded all they want, because I’m sure that those same people probably don’t fucking read to begin with. If I’m really, really sad, I’ll listen to something that I can relate to, something powerful that’s cathartic for me to listen to. But if I’m just feeling down like normal, I probably want to listen to something that’ll get me in better spirits and uplift me.

It’s almost sad how much people hate to listen to lighthearted, meaningless music. People will essentially dismiss artists like Lil Wayne, not because of skill levels or anything (I’m not the biggest Wayne fan in the world but the man can fucking rap), but because of the type of music he makes. People talk about how he doesn’t make real shit, and it’s all vapid, and shit like that. Well, my question is, why the fuck do you care? So what if he makes vapid music? How does it affect you as a person, when you just have the option to not listen and choose something else instead of complaining?

And it’s not even really about that, either. What really amuses me about the hatred of new-school hip hop is how these so-called old-school fans, these “real hip hop heads”, say that the only hip hop that’s good is the deeper shit, and that’s why new shit sucks. These fucking mongoloids seem to forget that hip hop was founded on celebratory music. It was music that people danced and partied to. Shit, break-dancing is supposed to be one of the main pillars of hip hop, isn’t it? To my knowledge, the socially-aware aspect of hip hop didn’t become something that was really widespread until the late ‘80s. Before then, it was primarily partying, having a good time, bragging about how good you are, and topics of that sort. Why is it that hip hop can’t still occasionally be about that just because something new was introduced to it? Now, the keyword here is “occasionally”. I’m not saying that the only hip hop that’s worth a shit is empty nonsense. I’m just saying that that sort of music should be able to co-exist with the realer shit, too.

Somewhat related, I would like to also ask…why is it that rappers who sound like they’re being lyrical as shit and socially conscious by essentially just rhyming a lot and using metaphors that reference current social issues, while actually saying nothing but gibberish, get so much more praise than those who are upfront about the fact that they say nothing of importance? I personally find when a rapper is talking irreverent shit about having fun to be better than when a rapper just rhymes a lot of nonsense while trying to sound deep. At least the fun rapper is actually saying something, as opposed to masticating the English language until it becomes almost caveman-like just to fool people into thinking that they’re really good at rapping. They’re not trying to pretend to be anything that they’re not. They’re just having a good time while the “lyrical” rappers are just acting like they’re fucking messiahs to the people, because that’s how their audience treats them for being able to relate something to a truck running over people in France while rhyming every other word, even if they’re made-up words. Hip hop fans for some reason have got some over 4 hour long Viagra hard-ons for rhymes that sound intelligent while being unintelligible, and they need to get over it. But again, a topic of discussion for another time.

All I’m saying is that life isn’t all about staying paranoid and keeping up with the latest conspiracies that rappers are coming up with to try to make themselves seem smart (I’m looking at you, Immortal Technique). There are several aspects of life, and one (or more) of those aspects is enjoying yourself. At the end of the day, being alive really has absolutely no reason behind it. The least you can do is embrace and enjoy the absurdity of life. In our modern society, I believe part of that is listening to absurd, vapid music. All you’re doing is removing yourself from a part of your life that is pretty essential to living with at least somewhat decent mental health. You’re not fooling anybody by listening to so-called “smart” music.

I really don’t know where to go from here. I’m on the verge of writing about how life is essentially meaningless so there’s no reason why music can’t be meaningless as well, but I feel like that’s a pretty bad idea, so I’ll sign off and send this to Dustin. I think I’ve made my point, but if not, I’ll do a tl;dr version of it right here: Stop being a pretentious fuckwad and enjoy some music to party to. It’s not a bad thing to actually enjoy yourself, you delusional masochists

Singer/Producer SWISH discusses breaking expectations, influences, and dream collaborations

by Dustin

swish

Sometimes an artist has something about them that causes your ears to perk up. A unique sound, or perhaps some extra creative flavor to their music that you can’t ignore. SWISH is one of these artists. Her music is soulful, fun at times, and rich. Behind her powerful voice is a colourful offering of wonderfully complimentary self-produced instrumentation that will keep you coming back for more.

We were turned onto her music by KashJordan, who we interviewed earlier this year. Immediately after hearing the first track, we knew we had to have her for an interview – and we think you’ll find her to be something quite special.

So head over to SWISH’s soundcloud (and check her new sounds), follow her on the Twitters, and then read our interview below!

EN: First I’d like to say thanks for doing this! I’ll move right into the questions. Do you produce all your tracks yourself? If you do, what’s your audio program of choice to work on?

SWISH: Yeah, I produce all my tracks on Logic.

EN: How long ago did you start making your own music?

SWISH: I’ve been writing since I was 5. I remember the first time I wrote a song was this cheesy C-A minor-G-F chord progression on the piano about how shitty my brother was, but I wasn’t serious about it until 6th or 7th grade when I started playing guitar.

EN: That’s awesome [laughs]. I like how it all started with classic sibling hate. Other than guitar and piano, do you play any other instruments?

SWISH: Bass and ukulele are pretty instinctual. I wanna learn how to play the trumpet or flute, but I don’t have enough money to buy an instrument has the potential to end up dusty in the corner of my room.

EN: Do you try and incorporate the live instruments you can play into your production or do you prefer plug-ins and sampling?

SWISH: It just depends on how I’m feeling or what I think will best reflect my vision, but for the most part I use both equally when I produce.

EN: When Kash introduced me to your music he described you as Kanye meets SZA, how do you feel about that comparison, musically?

SWISH: I understand it. I could see where he got Kanye, because all I do is make art and I see myself as a creator. And SZA has this style that is super apparent right now with female singers. It’s so rich and juicy that I can’t help but be a part of myself. The first couple songs I showed Kash were really SZA type songs, but as a singer I feel more connected to Amy Winehouse.

She’s 100% my biggest influence as a singer and I’d like to think it shows. But in my unreleased shit I could definitely see [that
comparison].

EN: It’s funny you mention Amy Winehouse because I was going to ask if she was one of your musical influences. On that topic, who else do you draw inspiration from musically?

SWISH: These days it’s definitely Amy Winehouse and Billie Holiday. It sounds weird, but I used to be super self conscious of the fact that I was a good singer because a lot of people I listened to didn’t need to be good singers because of their lyrical content and whatnot. Every singer I heard had weak lyrics because their voice could do all the work.

I [didn’t] wanna be another singer with weak-ass lyrics, but then I listened to Amy Winehouse’s first album Frank. She’s no Bright Eyes or Kendrick with words but
she could communicate emotion in ways that no other artist could because of what she was vocally capable of. She was so fuckin’ honest, it’s incredible. It changed the way I make music forever.

Billie holiday is just dope. Whenever I listened to her time slows down. She has this one quote that gave me more confidence as a singer too, “if I I’m going to sing like someone else then I shouldn’t sing at all”. That changed me for sure.

EN: When we were checking out your music prior to this interview, our editor pointed right away how prominent your vocals are in your music (unlike some artists who let it sink into the instrumental). Is this a conscious thing you do to make sure you’re properly heard by the listener?

SWISH: I guess that’s a part of it… I think I just denied the singer part of me for a while in fear of being put in a box. I realized how dumb that was because I couldn’t be all that I was, so I couldn’t grow. Now when I sing in my music it feels relieving and free of whatever limitations I or anyone else have tried to enforce on me.

I feel like I’m Julie Andrews on those grass hills in the beginning of sound of music. I guess when I record I can’t help but run for the hills or whatever [laughs]. I just get so caught up sometimes in that feeling.

EN: Do you think it’s harder for women to be respected as writers and lyricists in music? I see a lot of discussion about it being more difficult, especially for artists pushing the boundary of what’s expected.

SWISH: One hundred per-fucking-cent, dude. Yes! I mean, there’s a blatant segregation between male rappers and female rappers. Like if “male rappers” are just “rappers” then what does that make “female rappers”? Like we have to have that female stamp to put us back in our place or some shit. Especiallyin hip-hop, because that shit is fucking bursting at the seams with misogyny.

Plus people just think disrespecting women is cool so off the bat they’ll probably not wanna give me a chance for to gain their respect [musically] as much as they would a man
Also, if you’re a man you can be butt-ass ugly and still be respected. People value women based on their appearance whether they [realize] it or not. Sometimes I think it doesn’t matter at all what kind of dope ideas I have for shit.

Sometimes I think well I’m not fucking Trixie Tang, so there goes my career. Y’know?

EN: Do you ever find motivation from wanting to break these expectations and barriers of what’s expected by female artists?

SWISH: Sometimes. Other times I just don’t give a fuck about it. Like, gender roles play too much of a role in our day-to-day it’s fucking obnoxious and played out. I’m a huge feminist, but it all gets exhausting most of the time. I just wanna be able to exist as the androgynous-ass bitch that I am without having to deal with societal pressures and people being douche-bags.

EN: That’s a respectable approach to it. So if you don’t mind me asking, do you have any plans for any project releases in the future?

SWISH: Yeah, I actually have a whole track list ready, cover art, and music videos planned. I just need to get more resources and more of a reputation before I put this out. It’s too fire to just release to my hundred something followers.

EN: Would you describe it as similar sonically to the releases on your Soundcloud?

SWISH: Nah, it’s nothing like “Just One” or “Warm Milk”… Maybe “Grown Woman”, but I don’t know. The stuff on my Soundcloud was right when I was starting to find out what I was doing. I knew I was about to find what I had been looking for, and I wanted to nurture whatever that was. So I’ve been in my garage for like a year and a half trying to figure out who SWISH is, and just making gold.

The stuff on my Soundcloud you could feel a little something something in every song.. . And I feel like it makes you be like “oh, who’s this SWISH bitch?”, but with this new shit you hear it and you know exactly who SWISH is.

EN: So you believe that you’ve found a sound very definitive of who you are as an artist right now?

SWISH: Definitely.

EN: If you could pick five collaborations with active artists, who would you pick?

SWISH: I’d probably say Chance, Kanye, Kali Uchis, Kaytranada and J. Cole… Thinking about it, I don’t even know what I would do if I got in a studio with any of them… Like, that’s just a crazy thought.

EN: I imagine it’d be quite the experience. Being that your production is quite strong, would you ever consider collaborating in the producers role even if you didn’t appear on the track?

SWISH: Oh yeah, totally. I wanna do that more often actually. I gave this rapper Kwazee a beat today that I’ve been holding onto, and I’m stoked on it. I wanna see my name attached to as many titles as possible, whatever that means. It just feels good to stick your flag in the ground like that with any piece of art.

EN: That’s awesome. To kind of revisit that topic from earlier, it feels like there’s also like… I don’t know how to word this so much, but a distinct lack of female producers especially. Would you agree with that? I know there’s a handful of them, but it seems to be a role that’s particularly male dominated… You’d be like an extension of the first wave of female producers getting into it.

SWISH: Oh hell yeah dude, that shit is wild to me and I can’t really figure out why… Maybe because a lot of the money in women is being the face of an operation rather than behind the scenes. That’s why I like Janet Jackson so much because her production is wild and I know she was pretty involved in that aspect of it.

Janet Jackson is like a female pioneer to me, a huge inspiration. Missy as well.

Album Review: Mr. Lif – Don’t Look Down

by Dustin

mmrlif

7.5/10

Mr. Lif, one of the earliest members of the now defunct Definitive Jux record label, has been on somewhat of a hiatus… His last solo release came way back in 2009, but the time is finally right for his return to hip-hop. He has found a new home on the independent powerhouse Mello Music Group, which plays host to his fourth solo album, Don’t Look Down.

Lif has a reputation of quality, with all of his prior releases receiving critical acclaim. While many musicians lose a step when being away from their art for an extended period of time, Don’t Look Down continues this trend of excellence from Mr. Lif. The underground veteran has seamlessly picked up where he left off, delivering a pleasurable listen.

Don’t Look Down may not knock your socks off, but you will not walk away from it disappointed.

Well I’m sitting at my table now, hands crossed, blast off,
Thinking about some opportunities that I had passed on,
Hindsight is 20/20, thinking isn’t helping any,
Drinking will just serve to end me.
(Everyday We Pray)

Lif’s rapping was really enjoyable on this album. His writing is as strong as ever, and can be quite unique in structure. He’s not afraid to switch between poetic approaches, personal analysis, and even to delve into the more abstract. Don’t Look Down is the type of album that deserves multiple listens, if for no reason other than to digest the lyrics. As is the case with most emcees who came up in the same scene as Mr. Lif, his style can be pretty dense; moreover, Don’t Look Down has relatively quick pacing, so there will undoubtedly be things you miss on the first play-through.

That is to say, if the record doesn’t click with you on the first listen, don’t be afraid to give it another chance. It may only be 36 minutes long, but Mr. Lif packs an incredible amount of content into this running time.

I used to look up at night and see the sky,
Now I am the sky,
Now the planets I,
Used to use a telescope to see,
Are a part of me,
I’ve got Saturn in my arteries.
(Don’t Look Down)

Some of the production on this record is very reminiscent of the early 2000s Definitive Jux sound. “Whizdom” in particular has a wonderfully unorthodox instrumental. It manages to be head-nodding and addictive while simultaneously sounding like an ink-jet printer grinding out a thirty-two page university paper. That being said, Don’t Look Down does take on a more conventional approach at times as well. There is enough variation to keep the album sounding fresh throughout while not losing cohesion.

It should also be mentioned that every single instrumental compliments Mr. Lif’s vocals nicely. He clearly had a concrete direction in mind during beat selection, and it shows in the final product.

While Don’t Look Down may not exactly be comparable to I Phantom, it is a glimpse at a more mature Mr. Lif and should be approached with that in mind. It’s a very easy album to enjoy. Don’t Look Down is short, content dense, and while it’s certainly alternative, it still seems like an easy album for new listeners to jump into. For longtime fans, it will be a pleasure to hear new material after a long hiatus, especially since he delivers so well with this release.

Welcome back Mr. Lif.

Apu Rambles: FreeBeat42 (Give the Producer Some)

by Apu

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I don’t know if it’s just me being an illiterate idiot or not, but I get the sense that a lot of producers don’t get the credit that they’re due. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been involved in an exchange like the following:

Person: “Yo man check [generic rapper] out, he’s awesome”
Me: “Oh cool, play something for me”
Person plays a song with a mediocre rapper over a beat hot as Satan’s STD-infected dick while taking a piss
Person: “Pretty sick, right?”
Me: “I guess. I thought the guy was pretty whatever”
Person: “Shit, really? The beat is fucking crazy!”

Wow, I should become a playwright, I obviously have a knack for dialogue… Anyways, yeah. People listen to a song and love it because of the work that the producer put in, and the rapper whose name is on the song will get all the credit for the song. This has been happening for basically the entirety of the last decade that I’ve been listening to hip hop music, and might have been happening since even before that. I wouldn’t know though. There aren’t too many people in the general public who’ll say “Wow, I gotta find out who produced this track!” This trend doesn’t apply exclusively to hip hop either, pop music fans are probably the biggest offenders. “Hip hop heads” are different, they love to know who produce tracks because they understand that the producer is an instrumental element of the music that they listen to, pun intended. However, actual “hip hop heads” make up a small percentage of music listeners, and are probably even a small percentage of people who listen to hip hop regularly.

It’s something that I think most people don’t really think about unless they themselves make music (and even then, you’ll get the divas who don’t give a shit and attribute all of their success to their “talent”, which tends to be wailing into a mic over great beats and relying on the engineer to fix the audio).

When it comes to bands, I find that people will praise the band as a unit. Listeners will talk about how ill a guitar solo or drum solo is when it comes on, so even though the lead singer will still probably get the most notoriety, the other members do get their praise at points. Re-read that sentence and ridicule me about how obvious it is that I don’t know shit about bands. When a song is produced by someone other than the artist who “makes” the song and there’s an instrumental interlude, people don’t say “oh shit, listen to what the producer just did”. And I know some people will say “well, playing an instrument isn’t the same thing as producing something with a program so it’s not like it’s as impressive as a band member getting a solo”. Sure, it’s not the same as playing an instrument. That doesn’t change the fact that producing is really hard to do if you want to make actually good, professional-sounding beats to compete with the best of them. You need to be able to come up with catchy melodies in your own head, decide on which instrument sounds will fit the melodies the best, create a drum-line, make sure to fill the beat with sounds so that it doesn’t sound empty and amateur, add more to break up hooks and verses, chop samples in clever ways so they don’t become loops of the original…and that’s just what I know about.

I’m not a producer, so there’s sure to be more that I’m not aware of.

It doesn’t help when people like Lupe Fiasco talk about how producers get paid too much. Remember when he called out “overcharging producers” on Twitter? Sure, some producers charge a lot of money, but is that really any different from a rapper charging a lot for a guest verse? A guest rapper offers what he can to the song, which is vocals, and a producer offers what he can to the song, which is a beat. A rapper who starts getting famous and raps with other higher profile rappers charges more, and a producer who works with higher profile rappers charges more. It’s the same principle. Actually, on second thought, it’s not, because you can make a good album without any guest rappers on it, but if you can’t produce, I don’t really think you can make an album worth shit without the help of producers.

Without producers, rappers would be rapping acapella, maybe with a beat made from hitting a table or something at the most, but overall it would just be mainly vocals. I imagine that would become very monotonous, and people wouldn’t bother listening. There would be a lack of variety that can only come from different beats, and there would be a huge element missing in the emotional attachment of the music to the listeners. There’s a reason why people love listening to beat tapes but nobody really gives a fuck about acapella versions of albums… Unless they want to throw the vocals onto another beat.

You know, one that a producer made.

Not to mention, there are countless rappers who have said something along the lines of “I listen to the beat and do what it tells me”. A beat sets the tone, and can elicit a reaction in an artist that helps him or her think of what to write. I don’t know. If I, as stupid as I am, can understand that, I don’t get why Lupe can’t. Maybe he was just in his one of his “I’m gonna rap the ‘Obama is the real terrorist’ line over and over for 20 minutes, the crowd will love that!” moods. All I know is that “Overcharging producers. You’re not the rappers who have rapped on your beats. #Needed2BeSaid” can easily be flipped to “Overpaid rappers. You’re not the producers who have given you the backdrop on which you write, flow, perform, and essentially use to become famous, as opposed to just talking flatly in a vague rhythm with nothing behind your voice. #Needed2BeSaid”. Wait, I think that’s over 140 characters. God damn it.

I imagine it must be frustrating to the producers a lot of the time. Obviously they’re getting paid, and they’re earning plaques and awards for their work on albums. Sure, that’s nice, but I’m sure that if somebody is actually serious about their work, they most likely want to be at least recognized for it. I’ve read some complaints about producers putting tags on their beats. I don’t get that particular complaint. I sure as shit get irritated when DJs get a bit overzealous when tagging mixtapes, but I’m personally all for producer tags. If it’s something like the ones that Bangladesh, J.U.S.T.I.C.E. League, or Alchemist use, then I don’t think that it should be a problem. Nothing too loud or intrusive (unless you’re Just Blaze, in which case, you fucking deserve to have a loud tag, especially because what you hear after the tag plays is going to be absolutely sick 9 times out of 10). Something that can even add to the atmosphere of the beat (see J.U.S.T.I.C.E. League’s tag on Nas’s “No Introduction”). Or even something that plays almost like a small interlude before the song even comes on, like Mr. Porter’s “You get more for your money when you fuck with Mr. Porter” thing. That sort of thing doesn’t even get in the way of the song that’s about to play, it’s just an introduction. Anything that’s put in the beginning or end of the beat. I personally think that a producer should have a tag on at least one beat that they contribute to a rapper’s album. If there are other beats by the same producer, they don’t really need a tag in my mind (but it wouldn’t hurt). At least one though, so that it’s clearly put out there for everyone to know that that producer worked on the album. Even if it’s a collaboration album between a producer and a rapper, people really are just going to pay attention to the rapper. It doesn’t matter if the name of the producer is next to the rapper’s name, because the one that they hear talking to them is the rapper. If the producer has their name verbally stated on the track, or even just some sound effect that remains consistent throughout the music you work on with various artists, people will hopefully recognize it and make the association between his beats on different albums, and could possibly even start appreciating him.

Hearing the name on the song is a lot more effective than just crediting the producer in the liner notes, especially in an age where people don’t generally buy physical copies of albums.

I don’t want to make it seem like I’m giving producers more credit than rappers for making good music. You’re never going to hear me say that. When I listen to hip hop, I generally check more for what the rapper is saying than I do the beat. I only really pay attention more to the beat when it’s something absolutely mind-blowing, or when the rapping sucks. But the producer needs to provide the canvas for the rapper to be able to write what they write. At the same time, it’s the rappers who ultimately decide what direction they want an album to go in. They add the charisma needed for people to really become invested in the music. They write and recite the words that we all react to. Being a profitable off rapping is probably more difficult to do than doing so by being a good producer basically because of how the market works; rappers are always looking for beats, but if someone hears a rapper who sounds like other people they don’t get taken as seriously as they could. Producers are given a lot more wiggle room generally as far as the sounds they can use. Nobody really gets upset at a producer for making a beat for a pop artist, but everyone gets mad at a rapper for collaborating with the same artist. Ultimately, what I’m trying to say here before going on about 7 different tangents in one paragraph is that good hip hop music is the result of both rapper and producer. They go hand in hand. If one existed without the other, hip hop wouldn’t have become what it did, and there’s nothing that anyone could say against that.

But the rapper gets his due. I think it’s about time the producer does too.

How Hip-Hop Helped Me Deal with Mental Illness

by Dustin

Depressionarticle

I’d like to discuss something that I’ve only ever told the closest people in my life – I struggle with mental illness. I knew something was wrong since my early teens, but I didn’t admit it to myself (and seek formal diagnosis) until I was in my first year of university. After I saw my doctor, I let the stigma surrounding anxiety and depression rule my life. I felt ashamed, and I didn’t think anyone would understand what I was feeling. I held back from talking with people because I didn’t want to be judged negatively. I isolated myself out of fear that one of my friends or family members would find out that I wasn’t okay.

At one point I was sitting alone in my dorm drinking myself to sleep every day, I had stopped attending class, and my workout regime crawled from seven days a week to zero. I gained close to fifty pounds and was placed on academic probation. It felt like I had hit rock bottom, and it was incredibly scary. I was worried that I would end up doing something to hurt myself, and I couldn’t stomach the thought of putting my family through that sort of trauma.

I also knew that depression wasn’t something I could deal with alone, but I still wasn’t ready to ask for help.

It’s the stuff I find hard for discussion,
How the fuck do you explain your own self destruction and still remain trusted?
(El-P – Poisenville Kids No Wins)

In the meantime, I buried myself in music. During the twelve awake hours a day I was spending isolated in a twelve foot by twelve foot dorm room, I nearly always had my laptop playing some sort of music. The majority of the time I was just laying there listening doing nothing else, and it very much became my life.

Hip-hop in particular became home to me, and I started exploring and experimenting with new artists. I really started to get into music by El-P, Killer Mike, Open Mike Eagle, Blueprint, Shad, Eyedea, The Roots, Aesop Rock, and so many others that I won’t even attempt to list them off right now. For the most part, the music just served as a distraction that I happened to enjoy. I found everything from the production methods to writing styles interesting.

More importantly however, these artists were at times exploring dark paces they’ve been, and I felt like I could relate to the music. That’s when it really clicked. Holy shit, I’m not by myself in this. There are other people who are experiencing the exact same thing as me who probably also feel alone.

It took about a year to get to that point, but my perspective changed entirely.

Now if you never had a day a snow cone couldn’t fix,
You wouldn’t relate to the rogue vocoder blitz.
(Aesop Rock – None Shall Pass)

As crazy as it might sound, it really was a bit of an epiphany. The idea of opening up to those close to me didn’t seem quite as daunting. I told family members, I told some of my closer friends, and for the first time in a long time I was honest with myself about the severity of where I was mentally. As you’d expect, the people I opened up to had various reactions. A few withdrew themselves from me, but most were beautifully supportive and remain friends to this day.

Most importantly though, a huge weight was lifted off my shoulders. I started getting professional help. Not a whole lot of it, due to financial issues, but enough that things started to turn around. I started to pick up athletics again, my grades improved dramatically (though, I ended up dropping out two years later, but not for performance reasons), and I stopped drinking every day.

For lack of better phrasing, I felt like a different person.

Make you wanna sing, clap your hands to it,
Nod your head a little bit, maybe dance to it,
And reminisce about the good times you had to it,
Not sure what I’d do if I never had music.
(Blueprint – Mind, Body and Soul)

Now, I’d be fully lying to you if I said things ended completely happily. Anxiety and depression are still things that I battle with at times. Recently I hit another low. It didn’t last nearly as long, but it was a reminder that these things can linger. The difference now is that I’ve established the support network to fall back on when things get difficult, and it’s become an invaluable personal tool for keeping myself in check. I feel like I owe reaching this point to music.

So what I really want to say is, thank you to the artists who showed that personal side and vulnerability. As much as none of them will probably read this, it helped me accept things about myself that were incredibly difficult to come to terms with. I’m in a much better mental place because of it.

If you’re reading this and you think you’re dealing with something similar, remember that you’re not alone. I know that it’s really easy to slip into mental isolation, and there are still times where I have to really force myself to not purposely cut people out as well. I can’t stress enough how much simply opening up to someone supportive can help. Take advantage of whatever resources you have. It’s never easy, but I believe it’s worth the fight in the end.

Apu Rambles: I Just Sold Out

by Apu

Sellout

So I was on Twitter a little while ago, and I saw Tech N9ne tweet out one of those “instead of a picture, I’ll post a screenshot of words” Instagram posts, because I guess fuck the ability to use something like TwitLonger or something. The basic gist of the post was “The people who are upset with you changing are comfortable with remaining stagnant” which is something that Tech has been sort of saying ever since basically The Gates Mixed Plate. Ever since that album, Tech has sort of had elements to his music that, to certain fans, may seem like he’s catering to the mainstream. He gets backlash from his fans based off of the people who he chooses works with and the sound of a few of his songs. I had retweeted the message with something along the lines of “I wish more people thought this way instead of being too afraid of their idiot fans to change at all,” and earlier today I felt as though 140 characters was not enough to thoroughly explain my thoughts.

Now, make no mistake. There’s a lot of artistic decisions that Tech makes that I can’t bring myself to behind. Tech does make a lot of music that he likes to defend by saying “I’m a partying dude, so I’m gonna make party music!” The only problem is, most of this “party” music, at least the songs that came out after The Gates Mixed Plate, tends to be dry and forced. Before and on Gates, the party songs he made had a much more carefree sound to them. They were simpler and catchier. Songs like “Caribou Lou,” (obviously) “Yeah Ya Can,” and “Let Me In” had a more natural, loose feeling to them than nearly every party song since hasn’t had. “No K” is the only one I can think of that feels more like those songs. Also, “Dwamn” is quite possibly one of the worst songs I’ve ever listened to. That shit doesn’t make me want to move or party or anything. It’ll probably be what I play when I get the balls to kill myself. He seems like he’s trying way too hard to make music to party to, and honestly, I don’t know of anyone who really parties to songs like “Dwamn”. Plus, he and Travis O’Guin signed that guy who sounds like a poor man’s The Weeknd (and is a culprit of a portion of what I talked about in my last rant, You’re All Boring, Stop Putting Out Music Please. Just read that so I don’t have to go too deep into detail about why I dislike him). I like essentially all of the music I’ve heard by The Weeknd. To be fair, that adds up to about 4 or 5 songs, but still, it’s not like I’m biased against that style of music. He just can’t pull it off because he sounds like he’s Justin Timberlake on Mickey Mouse Clubhouse after inhaling helium. I’m not entirely sure if that turns women on but I’m sure that if I were to ever fuck to one of his songs I’d probably have the erectile issues of a man 30 years my senior. Or an internet porn addict, since apparently watching too much internet porn may lead to erectile dysfunction…not that I would know from firsthand experience or anything… But yeah, in recent years Tech has definitely been making decisions that are sort of questionable to me. Wow, I ended that almost like a high school paper with the concluding sentence and everything to sum up what the body paragraph was about. I should write an email to my old English teachers and tell them that they actually did teach me something and end the paragraphs in that email with concluding sentences to drive the point home.

I’m fairly certain I know what some of you may be thinking, but I’m not criticizing those songs and Diet Weeknd for being indicative of Tech N9ne selling out. My issues lie with Tech and Strange trying to almost guilt their listeners into liking them or blaming us for not being suited for the music, when I’m pretty sure I’ve made it clear that I enjoy party music and it’s just the music being bad. Tech wanting to branch out is a totally fine thing. I actually encourage that. I want to see artists be more ambitious. I want to see them succeed. Tech has been rapping for way too long to not see success, and I’m very glad it’s finally coming to him. I’m happy that he has the opportunity to work with artists who he’s always wanted to work with. That’s all great to me. In order to get to where he’s gotten and stay there, though, he’s had to make some compromises in his music. He’s made music that sounds like it was made to fit into the current landscape of mainstream hip hop. However,just because a rapper has decided to make music that sounds like they’re trying to get a bit of radio play doesn’t mean that they’ve gone soft or they’re selling out or anything. If that’s selling out, then what the fuck was Biggie doing with songs like “Hypnotize” or “Another” on his second album? He followed up a rough, rugged debut album with a double album where there was at least 3 songs on each disc that sounded like it was an attempt for radio play. And even his debut had “Big Poppa” on it!

Sidenote, “Big Poppa” has to be one of my favorite songs ever. I forget the specifics because I was anorexic at the time so there’s not much that I remember from late 2012 – mid 2013 (too much info?), but me and one of my best friends at the time had a ton of fun just randomly quoting the song at the most inappropriate times. We ruined a fair amount of actual deep discussions by doing that. Unfortunately, he found himself a girlfriend and broke off his friendships with everyone who wasn’t his girlfriend’s friend, because he’s beyond whipped to the point where he’s lost his own self and essentially become a second vessel for her incredibly controlling, spoiled, entitled, and whiny personality… and that’s not just me being jealously girlfriendless or misogynistic. I’d hang myself with a cheese wire before I let myself be that fucking pathetic. Even the girls who we hang out with feel the exact same way as I do about them. But still, we had some good times being idiots.

So yeah. Just because something is radio-oriented doesn’t make it a bad thing. What’s the point of making music if nobody is going to hear it? For the love of the music? How are you supposed to do something for the love of it if you can’t eat and support yourself so you’re in a position to afford the luxury of loving it in the first place? I swear, it’s like hip hop fans don’t take into account anything at all if their favorite rappers don’t do exactly what they want them to do. If a rapper DARES to try something new, then fuck them! The rapper’s selling out! He’s not the same! I want to hear the exact same album being made again and again because that’s the only way I know that he’s staying pure! Underground only! No pop singles, no radio play, I want to keep the music all to myself! No exposure, only sellouts get exposure! Selling out isn’t hip hop! Jesus Christ, it’s just music. Maybe it’s because there is an overabundance of bullshit and fans don’t want their favorite rappers to get involved, but honestly, it’s not like you’re going to lose your job just because a rapper you listen to made a radio single or two. Open your fucking mind up a little bit.

Now, it’s a different story when a rapper decides to just become some bubblegum act like it seemed like Ludacris was doing for a few years before he put out Ludaversal (which ended up being his best album out of the last few he had released). Don’t do what Redman did on Reggie (although I guess he had a decent excuse; he didn’t want to give Def Jam the sequel to his biggest album so he just gave them that and left the label). I’m also not saying you should compromise your actual ability on the song. But if it’s just a song or two on your album with a sound that’ll get the public at large listening it shouldn’t matter, especially if the rest of the album is nothing like the singles, but is instead some sick, raw shit. That way you can even trick listeners who think they’re going to get more of what they heard on the singles, and introduce them to some really good music that they wouldn’t have heard otherwise. And if you really put the effort into doing so, you can make a poppier single still sound really good. You can also format your album it in a way where it’ll still make sense for it to be on your album. You can have it be surrounded by songs that help the transition a bit…there’s plenty that can be done if the proper thought goes into it. Like I said before, just look at what Biggie did and you should probably be fine, since the singles on Life After Death were pretty fucking poppy compared to the rest of the album, but the album overall is still considered a classic.

And then we have these bitter old rappers talking about how much hip hop sucks nowadays. Of course, not everyone is like that; DJ Premier once said something along the lines of “I’m into boom bap. That trap shit, that’s cool, the kids can do that and I respect that, but I’m not doing that”. That’s the right way to think about it if you ask me…not that anybody did…nobody asks me anything…Anyways, the way Premier is going about it is how everyone should go about it, in my opinion. The OGs expect the newer rappers to respect their way of doing hip hop, while they bash the newer rappers’ way of doing hip hop. Why would a kid ever respect an old man ranting about why they suck? It makes absolutely no sense. It’s even worse because the OGs aren’t doing anything to help the kids. Old rappers: stop talking about what’s so wrong with kids doing hip hop these days. You’re going to do nothing except make the kids disillusioned with what you did. No kid is going to want to be like a grumpy old man. They’re going to do shit their way and put less stock into what you did because they don’t like you as people. Guys, if you’re so concerned about the state of hip hop, why don’t you take an up and coming rapper under your wing and mold them into something that could be really special? They could take the best of what’s going on now and under your tutelage they could implement some of what made old school hip hop so amazing and create a fucking classic. Case in point: Kendrick. untitled unmastered. had the whole “I mixed jazz with trap” thing going on. He blended the old and the new and made what will probably end up being the best project of 2016. Only difference is that Kendrick never really had an OG take him under his wing before he started doing the shit. But still, he’s a pretty good example of what could happen if the new and old collaborated instead of stayed at odds with each other. Come together. Push forward. Help make current mainstream rap better, cover more ground. Don’t just stay stuck on “yeah the underground is all that’s worth listening to” when a lot of underground artists (not all! Lots of rappers from the underground are fucking incredible) are just retreading the roads that you paved, staying stagnant and not innovating the way that you did.

I’ll end it on that sickeningly, disgustingly positive note, because I don’t want to ruin the moment. Bye bye!

Artist of the Month: clipping.

by Dustin

clppng

At one point in the late months of 2014 someone linked me to clipping.’s release from a year earlier, midcity. One thing lead to another and… Well, I ended up binge listening to every scrap of material the hip-hop trio could offer. What I learned swiftly is that clipping. really isn’t your usual rap act even though the lyrical subject matter can seem familiar. In fact, they probably couldn’t be further from the norm.

If you’ve heard a single clipping. song in your life then you will know exactly what I mean. Let’s start with the production. That sexy, sexy production. William Hutson and Jonathan Snipes create some of the most abrasive (in all the right ways) and noisy instrumentals I’ve ever heard, yet they remain pleasing to the ears; moreover, I find their production to be incredibly atmospheric. My favorite example of this is the song Story 2. Though Daveed Diggs lyrics are rich with story-telling goodness, Hutson and Snipes’ production turn the song into a beautifully anxious and emotionally draining listening experience.

Seriously, did you just listen to that song? If you have to take a moment to let your heart rate come back down I wouldn’t blame you.

I should probably talk about Daveed Diggs now that I’ve mentioned him. Fun fact, he’s recently won a Grammy for some of his musical theatre work. Talented guy, and he’s also a pretty fantastic rapper. I would say that his greatest strength is his ability to lay thick descriptions in his writing effortlessly. As I mentioned earlier, Story 2 does showcase this, but it’s a pretty standard part of Diggs’ style. Take for instance the horrorcore flavored track from CLPPNG, Body & Blood (note: the video I’ve just linked to is most definitely not safe for work, you have been warned). He verbally paints a picture of the murderous female lead’s physical appearance and behaviors without forcing anything into the verse. It’s just lovely.

Well, as lovely as you can get when talking about a cannibalistic female serial killer, but that’s a discussion for another day.

Another thing about clipping. that I respect is their versatility within their own sound. On one hand, they’re masters of the ultra-abrasive tracks that are perhaps not so accessible. Intro is one of these songs. It’s loud, and it wants to permanently damage your eardrums to the point that you develop tinnitus (I say this with love, the sound is great). On the other hand, clipping. has put out songs like Summertime which are ridiculously smooth given the production style.

As a side, if you just listened to Summertime and don’t want to be cruising around in August with your windows down, I don’t know what to say. I know the subject matter isn’t happy, but you can still leave if you don’t agree with me. Seriously, there’s nothing more for you here because we will never agree on anything.

Just kidding I love you.

Allow me to issue a personal challenge to anyone who reads this article: listen to a clipping. project in full. I expect that the sound wont click with every single person that checks out their music, and that’s certainly okay. For those who end up enjoying the sound though (such as myself), you’ll find yourself pleasantly addicted to one of the most unique acts currently in hip-hop.

Here, listen to guns.up. Don’t even try to figure out what’s happening, just let it hit you. Just accept it.