Local Coffeeshop Soundtrack: Cup A Joe

This playlist is the third playlist from my “Local Coffeeshop Soundtrack” series. I feel emotional making a playlist inspired by Cup A Joe because it’s the first coffee shop I went to when I moved to Raleigh, NC. Cup A Joe is a coffeehouse and coffee roaster located on Hillsborough Street. They offer coffee, hot beverages, smoothies and sweet treats. They sell their own coffee beans — the slogan on their merch even says “don’t forget your coffee beans”— and they’re also known for supporting local artists. The very first Cup A Joe opened in Greensboro, NC in 1994, and you can tell the Hillsborough one also has an old-school vibe just by looking at its interior design. Brown tiles, retro coffee machine, Elvis Presley photographs and 7” vinyls on the walls: the smallest details inside this place personify the ’50s and ’60s.

The first thing that came to mind when making this playlist was “I need to include at least one song by Elvis Presley to honor the decorations on their wall”, and I did. The second thing that came to mind is that Cup A Joe has both old-school and chill vibes, so the songs need to render exactly those. Here are five tracks that best illustrate this coffee shop, with 50’s blues for the vintage sounds, neo-soul and nu-jazz for the lounge atmosphere, and chill rap to give it a modern touch. You can find the full playlist here.

“Hell N Back” by Bakar

Bakar‘s “Will You Be My Yellow?” is a smooth and groovy EP released in 2019. The British singer, songwriter and model wrote exclusively about relationships on this record — “both thriving and failing” relationships. “Hell N Back” has become a classic alternative jazzy song in my eyes. As poetic and sweet as this track is meant to be, I crack up every time I listen to Bakar sings “She had green eyes like Mountain Dew” — but the poetry in “Me and you went to hell and back just to find peace” balances it out.

“I’d Rather Go Blind” by Etta James

The rhythm’n’blues queen released “I’d Rather Go Blind” in 1968 after dealing with drug addiction and several abusive romantic relationships. Given her level of fame now, you’d never guess she had a hard time staying at the top of music charts back then because of her personal issues. “I’d Rather Go Blind” is a pretty self-explanatory title: Etta can’t stand to look at her love interest being with another woman. The sad girl/hopeless romantic in me thought including a blues song like this one would fit Cup A Joe’s atmosphere pretty well.

“Eugene” by Arlo Parks

Speaking of songs about unrequited love, “Eugene” is a sweet queer love song (or should I say, unrequited love song) about Arlo “half falling in love” with her straight female childhood friend, who’s in a relationship with — you guessed it — Eugene. Despite its heartbreaking topic, I find this song very soothing. Arlo Parks’ official bio describes her style as “indie-pop”, but I’d personally describe it as a mix of neo-folk and neo-soul. Her album “Collapsed In Sunbeams” was released in 2021 and was critically acclaimed: it was nominated as Album of the Year, Best New Artist and Best British Female Solo Artist at the 2021 Brit Awards. Even though I don’t believe that awards and prizes define the quality of an artist’s work, she really does deserve all these nominations.

“Ring Master” by Mattari

Mattari is a nu-jazz producer from London, UK. the only description I could find about their work in their Spotify and Bandcamp’s bios is “Chilled Beats – Horns – Grooves” and it sums up their style pretty well. “Ring Master” is a nu-jazz instrumental song released a single in 2020 and it sounds like your typical relaxing coffee shop tune.

“Mi Casa” by Kota The Friend

In addition to being naturally talented, Kota The Friend is also a very prolific rapper. He releases one album per year and saying that each one is good would be an understatement. “Mi Casa” is taken from his 2020 album “EVERYTHING”, a record with touching lyrics and chill vibes. By touching, I mean that the lyrics in this song are all about him celebrating his success, being humble about it and holding on to his inner peace. Very wholesome content for a rap song, if you ask me.

— Lise Nox