Happy Friday everyone! Here are the tracks that I’ve been vibing with for the past week (playlist here):
Sock It 2 Me (feat. Da Brat) by Missy Elliot: This track was one of the first hits of Missy’s solo career, and with Timbaland’s signature production, it gives us a taste of their killer creative chemistry.
Mutha Magick (feat. BbyMutha) by Black Noi$e: Noi$e’s erratic production is a perfect fit for BbyMutha’s appearance on this track. In less than two minutes, the mother of 4 drops a handful of lyrical gems that will have you pressing repeat for sure.
Baby by Donnie & Joe Emerson: Ariel Pink’s 2012 cover of this song made it an underground classic. Its soulful vocals and laid back groove make it a DJ Mango classic – it makes me feel like I’m floating.
12.38 (feat. 21 Savage, Ink & Kadhja Bonet) by Childish Gambino: Despite Donald Glover’s celebrity as a musician, actor and director, he’s relatively lowkey. The release of his latest Childish Gambino project was also lowkey, and it went under my radar for a while. “12.38” is definitely a standout.
MANGO (feat. Adeline) by KAMAUU: This new track from KAMAUU explores the idea of an unselfish love. It’s also funkier than a week old pair of gym socks.
September by Earth, Wind, & Fire: This classic is a celebration of the final days of summer and a fantastic way to ring in the fall. Interestingly enough, the 21st night of September holds no special significance – it just sounded good, so the writers went with it. Check out my full discussion of the lyric here!
TRICK DADDY by ICECOLDBISHOP: BISHOP’s aggressive and eccentric delivery makes him an oddity in the hip-hop soundscape. Singles like “TRICK DADDY” have me excited for his debut!
Chameleon by Jenae Ailia: Jenae Ailia’s unique blend of neo-soul, indie and R&B is quite ear-grabbing. They’re a new artist to me, but I’ll certainly be on the look out for their new stuff!
It has been said many times in many ways that good artists copy and great artists steal. What does this say about the person from which the artist steals?
If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, Sister Nancy is perhaps the greatest artist of all time. The Jamaican DJ and singer’s track “Bam Bam” has been sampled nearly a hundred times. If you’ve listened to Kanye West’s “Famous”, Lauryn Hill’s “Lost Ones” or Beyoncé’s live version of “Hold Up” you’ve heard the song, which was released in 1982. “Bam Bam” was by no means an instant hit: it wasn’t until 2014, when the song appeared in movies and commercials, that Sister Nancy realized others were using her work without compensation. With the help of a lawyer she was able to win 10 years worth of royalties, but who is to say how much she missed out on?
To complicate the story further, “Bam Bam” isn’t an original work in itself – it’s a cover of a song of the same name by The Maytals and Byron Lee and the Dragonaires, and its instrumental samples a well-known backing track called “Stalag 17” by Ansel Collins. This raises a few interesting questions: What is their role in the creation of one of the most frequently sampled songs in popular music? Are they entitled to credit and compensation? Where is the line between recontextualizing someone’s idea and ripping it off? Is it ethical to impose a system of laws upon something as subjective as the artistic process?
While the ethics of fair use and copyright law make for a contentious debate, it is clear that no ideas are conceived in a vacuum – artists draw inspiration from every corner of the world. If good artists copy and great artists steal, then a few of us are thieves, the rest of us are copycats and none of us are absolved.
It’s that special time of year again! The seasons are changing. Midterms are coming up. Election day is right around the corner (click here for DJ Butter’s guide to voting in NC). Yes, it truly feels like the 21st night of September. Do you remember?
September by Earth, Wind & Fire is one of my favorite songs of all time. It’s one that was burned into my consciousness from a young age. From the last cookout of the summer to dancing at my cousin’s wedding, September was the soundtrack. For me, it’s one of those songs that boosts my mood as soon as it comes on.
So what is the significance of the 21st night of September? According to Allee Willis, co-writer of the song, the date is arbitrary. Her and lead songwriter Maurice White went through every date – do you remember the first, the second, and so on. To quote Willis, “the one that just felt the best was the 21st.”
So there you have it: the most important holiday of the year was conceived simply because it sounded right. No symbolic significance, no deeper meaning – nothing. But I think there is a lesson to be learned in light of this revelation. In our digital age, we are inundated with messages and media that are supposed to “mean” something. But perhaps these artifacts have no intrinsic meaning at all, and our perception that one exists is a reflection of our human need to make sense of the world. I, for one, spend so much time dissecting things that sometimes I forget to enjoy them for what they are instead of what they mean.
During the recording sessions for September, Willis asked White what “ba-dee-ya” meant. According to her, “he essentially said, ‘Who the f— cares?’” Willis continued by saying “I learned my greatest lesson ever in songwriting from him, which was never let the lyric get in the way of the groove.“
I think this is not only great songwriting advice, but great life advice as well. Don’t let the lyrics of meaning get in the way of the groove of life. Happy September 21st, everyone.
Hailing from Akron, Ohio, The Black Keys have had a career that spans almost two decades. In that time they have explored blues rock, garage rock and psych rock, and though some of their efforts have featured more expansive instrumentation, simplicity is a cornerstone of their sound. Their focus has always been on the groove between Dan Auerbach’s guitar and Patrick Carney’s drums, as well as Dan’s strong songwriting skills. For this reason, few artists have been in my rotation longer than The Black Keys. With nine studio albums under their belt, however, it is safe to say that some are better than others. I’ve put together a tier list of their discography from worst to best – here are my thoughts:
F Tier: Car Commercial Music (Let’s Rock)
Let’s Rock, The Black Key’s latest release, is their worst album to date. Maybe it’s because they set the bar so high with some of their other work, but in my opinion this is the boys at their most uninspired. This album marks a return to their roots after the sonic departure known as Turn Blue (more on that in a second), but when compared to their previous albums, this one just sounds watered down. It’s inoffensive, focus-grouped rock music that belongs in a car commercial.
D Tier: Is This Even Canon (Turn Blue)
Released in 2014, Turn Blue is the Black Key’s most adventurous album. Produced by Danger Mouse, this album is much more psych/pop than their other work. While I admire the risks they took with this record, I don’t think they always played out well. Turn Blue never scratched that Black Keys itch for me, but there are a few tracks that I enjoy.
C Tier: It’s OK I Guess (The Big Come Up and Magic Potion)
2002’s The Big Come Up was the Black Key’s debut album, and definitely their roughest. While there is a certain charm about its uncompromising grittiness, I think this approach translated much better on Thickfreakness and Rubber Factory. Meanwhile, 2006’s Magic Potion is The Black Key’s most forgettable effort. None of the material on it is necessarily bad, but the boys had already set the bar very high with 2004’s Rubber Factory. These two are the last of what I consider to be non-essential Black Keys records.
B Tier: Slightly Spicy (Attack & Release and El Camino)
This tier marks the beginning of what I consider to be the essential Black Keys canon. 2008’s Attack and Release and 2011’s El Camino are both classics in their own right, but I have a slight preference for the former. Attack and Release represents a musical risk that paid off for The Black Keys: the instrumental flourishes of flutes, synths, and even banjos sound right at home on the boy’s first album recorded in a professional studio. By comparison, 2011’s El Camino is The Black Keys’ most commercial album. You can tell songs like “Lonely Boy” and “Gold on the Ceiling” were written with the Top 40 in mind. El Camino is everything that Let’s Rock should’ve been – radio friendly, but still retaining that roughness that put the Black Keys on the map in the first place.
A Tier: Hey That’s Pretty Good (Rubber Factory and Thickfreakness)
2003’s Thickfreakness and 2004’s Rubber Factory represent the first Golden Age of Black Keys music. These albums proved that two guys in an Akron basement (or abandoned tire factory) could make compelling rock music with little more than a guitar and a drum set. When making this tier list, I seriously considered putting Rubber Factory in the number 1 spot. These two albums are definitely the Black Key’s most visceral projects.
S Tier: Chef’s Kiss (Brothers)
2010’s Brothers was the The Black Key’s commercial breakthrough and what made them a household name. Perhaps I am biased because it was my first exposure to the band, but I doubt I’m the only one who would say Brothers is the greatest Black Keys record. With it, Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney managed to craft an album that not only paid homage to their roots but also diversified their sound, making it appealing to people who aren’t even rock fans. Thanks to tracks like “Tighten Up”, “Ten Cent Pistol”, and “Sinister Kid”, Brothers could be mistaken for a greatest hits record. I am especially fond of Dan’s falsetto on “Everlasting Light” and “The Only One” because it beautifully contrasts his normally rough, bluesy voice. Simply put, there is not a bad song on the album, and that is why it stands as the pinnacle of The Black Key’s discography.
That’s the tier list! Are you a Black Keys fan? If so, how would you rank their albums?
There is a certain levity in listening to sad music during moments that aren’t specifically sad. In my opinion, sad music can be enjoyed regardless of your current emotional state. This is untrue of other kinds of music – try listening to “Happy” by Pharrell while in the midst of a breakup and you’ll see what I mean. Whether you’re on a late night drive or crying in the club, this is the playlist of sad bangers that will help you capture that oddly specific vibe you’re going for:
King of Carrot Flowers Pt. 1 by Neutral Milk Hotel: The opening track on In the Aeroplane Over the Sea finds Jeff Mangum juxtaposing playful childhood memories with traumatic ones.
Nowhere2go by Earl Sweatshirt: The release of this song in 2018 marked Earl’s return from a brief musical hiatus. “Nowhere2go” gives us a brief update from him as he touches on his feelings of isolation and despair.
Broken Bones and Pocket Change by St. Paul & The Broken Bones: On this track, singer Paul Janeway bares his soul over sorrowful horn lines from his band. His powerful voice is the perfect vessel for the emotional tone of this song.
Self Control by Frank Ocean: As the king of sad bangers himself, Frank Ocean is known for his ability to convey emotional states in a way few artists can. “Self Control” is a slow burner that deals with a fundamental disconnect between two lovers, and features one of the most transcendent outros of any song I’ve ever heard.
Heavenly Father by Isaiah Rashad: The melodic and upbeat nature of this song definitely betrays its heavy subject matter. “Heavenly Father” finds rapper Isaiah Rashad reflecting on the lack of guidance in his life from his estranged father and God.
Good News by Mac Miller: The lead single from Mac Miller’s posthumous album Circles paints a picture of his tired soul, and describes the pressure he felt to hide his pain. The intimate lyrics combined with the gentle instrumentation make this song a truly bittersweet experience.
Ex-Factor by Lauryn Hill: This classic by Ms. Lauryn Hill describes a toxic relationship that is all too familiar to many of us. The resonant lyrics and beautiful music make this song a certified Sad Banger™.
That’s the playlist! What are your favorite sad bangers?
In general, discussion of the Kendrick Lamar canon is limited to the holy trinity of good kid, m.A.Ad city, To Pimp a Butterfly, and DAMN., with the occasional nod to untitled unmastered. Rarely is there mention of Section.80, Kendrick’s 2011 debut. It’s true that some of the tracks haven’t aged well (“No Makeup”, “Tammy’s Song”), but in my opinion there are many more hits than misses on K. Dot’s first studio album. It isn’t as focused as GKMC, as ambitious as TPAB, or as eclectic as DAMN., but Section.80 has a story to tell all its own.
That story centers around Tammy and Keisha, two characters who struggle to make sense of the world around them. Kendrick paints a picture of this world in great detail throughout the album’s runtime. On “A.D.H.D”, he reflects on the drug abuse that is so prevalent in his generation by saying “You know why we crack babies?/Because we born in the 80s, that A.D.H.D crazy.” “Ronald Reagan Era” describes Kendrick’s hometown of Compton, California in a way that only a true emcee could. In one bar, he says “1987, the children of Ronald Reagan/Rake the leaves of your front porch with a machine blowtorch”, which speaks to the generation of children who have been negatively affected by president Reagan’s policies. The narrative continues on “Keisha’s Song”, in which the titular character becomes a sex worker in order support herself. Like Tupac’s classic “Brenda’s Got a Baby”, Kendrick shows how this vicious cycle of neglect ends in tragedy. On “Ab-Soul’s Outro,”, the penultimate track on Section.80, Kendrick meditates on the themes presented throughout the album. In a particularly candid moment, he says “I’m not on the outside looking in/I’m not on the inside looking out/I’m in the dead f—— center, looking around.”
Even in 2011, Kendrick – who had not yet reached his prime – was no stranger to the Odyssean task of creating a concept album. He would continue to develop this skill with each project following Section.80, cementing him as one of the most gifted storytellers in hip-hop. While the narrative on this project isn’t as compelling as those found on his later albums, it is definitely worth a listen. To see the world through Kendrick Lamar’s eyes is a one-of-a-kind experience.
Plastic by Moses Sumney: The unassuming guitar progression on this track is the perfect backdrop for Moses Sumney’s ethereal voice. The combination makes for a truly beautiful meditation on heartbreak and fragility.
Trader Joe by Junglepussy: A catchy indie-rap song about a man that Junglepussy likes more than Trader Joes. Favorite bar: “We don’t f—, he just pick me up from Trader Joe’s/Carry all my groceries and lick on all my toes”.
Weight by redveil: This self-produced track by 16 year-old redveil truly showcases his potential. Be sure to check out my review of his latest release, Niagara!
HiiiPower by Kendrick Lamar: Section.80 by Kendrick Lamar is often overshadowed by his later releases. The closing track, produced by J. Cole, proves why the album is still worth your time.
Crawl by Gabriel Garzón-Montano: Every time I create a Friday Favorites playlist, I have to fight the urge to include a GGM track. This week, that urge prevailed. “Crawl” has been stuck in my head all week, and if you listen to it, it will be stuck in yours too.
Wasteland by Tierra Whack: One of my favorite things about Tierra Whack is her versatility. Every one of her songs has a distinct feel. My only question is, where is the album?
Late Nights & Heartbreak by Hannah Williams and the Affirmations: This song is a scorching soul ballad about mistreating one’s lover. Its subject matter, combined with Hannah William’s commanding vocals, made it the perfect sample for Jay-Z’s “4:44”.
If You Want Me To Stay by Ari Lennox and Anthony Ramos: On this track, Ari Lennox and Anthony Ramos team up to cover a Sly and the Family Stone classic. This rendition features modern instrumentation but just as much soul as the original.
Tierra Whack’s 2018 album Whack World is something of a sample platter: that is, it gives you a taste of everything but leaves you hungry for more. The project is composed of 15 one-minute tracks, each with their own distinct flavor. Of course, the enjoyment of any dish relies on its visual presentation as well, which is why Whack World is best enjoyed while viewing the video that goes with it.
In just 15 minutes Tierra Whack invites the viewer into a bizarre world of cable repairmen (“Cable Guy”), puppet cemeteries (“Pet Cemetery”), 80s fitness trends (“Fruit Salad”) and so much more. Tierra Whack’s visual storytelling is on par with her lyrical storytelling: vibrant colors and set designs are paired with eccentric tales about relationships, loss, and self love. Songs like “Hungry Hippo”, and “Pretty Ugly” showcase her knack for catchy, off-the-wall vocal inflections, while “Sore Loser” reminds us that she is a capable emcee in her own right. My favorite song has got to be “F*ck Off”, which finds Miss Whack singing with a cartoonish affectation: “I hope your a– breaks out in a rash/You remind me of my deadbeat dad.”
I think Tierra Whack’s decision to make each song one minute was very clever – just as you are drawn into the world of one track, it abruptly ends and you are thrust into the next. This is what keeps me coming back to this project time and time again, and why you should check it out for yourself!
With the proliferation of cameras, satellites and other technologies that collect biometric data, it is easier than ever to track the location and behavioral patterns of individuals. The internet has made it possible for millions of people to spy on each other at will through social media and applications like Google Earth. This is the premise for the music video by rapper Vince Staples.
This video was produced as though we are watching through Google Street view, with some shots being stills and others containing movement. It takes place in “Norfy”, California, which is Vince’s nickname for his hometown of northern Long Beach. The camera follows Vince as he passes by other residents who are seen doing a variety of activities. In the end of the video, it is revealed that a teenager identified as “Lucas” has been watching these events unfold from his computer screen – when his name is called, he quickly closes his laptop and leaves the frame.
There are some details about Lucas that shed some light on the intersection of race, class, and the vicarious life of the hip-hop fan. Lucas is portrayed as a teenage white male; based on his room we might assume he is somewhere in the upper-middle class, and based on the “Free Kodak” poster on his wall we can deduce he is a hip-hop fan. Vince Staples knows his audience quite well – though hip-hop is one of the most diverse genres of music, people like Lucas make up a considerable chunk of its demographic. When a genre of music that is rooted in the struggle of an oppressed people is consumed by those who have not experienced that struggle, it becomes commodified as entertainment.
There is an irony in us watching someone watch someone else. To this end, I think “FUN!” serves as a criticism of not only Lucas, but the viewers themselves. After all, are we not spying on Vince as well?
We are all familiar with the steady 4 beat pulse that permeates much of today’s music. This is called common time or in time signature notation, 4/4. However, not all popular music uses this rhythm – other popular time signatures are ¾, often found in waltzes, and 6/8, often heard in soul music. Some popular songs even use time signatures that are asymmetrical or irregular, or time signatures that change! I’ve put together a playlist of notable songs that employ these odd time signatures.
Tom Sawyer by Rush (Moving Pictures, 1981): Prog rock legends Rush are known for their extensive use of odd time signatures. Tom Sawyer is no different; it features grooves in 4/4 and 7/8.
Nosferatu Man by Slint (Spiderland, 1991):This track by post rock band Slint features sections in 5/4, 6/4 and 4/4.
Money by Pink Floyd (The Dark Side of the Moon, 1973): By far the most popular song on this list, this track’s famous opening riff occurs in 7/4 time with its solo sections in 4/4 time.
Pyramid Song by Radiohead (Amnesiac, 2001): This song by Radiohead is famous for its seemingly nonexistent rhythm – fans can’t seem to reach a consensus on what time signature it is in. Interestingly enough, the song’s rhythm can actually be conceptualized as a heavily syncopated 4/4 groove. Listen for yourself and tell me what you think!
Take Five by The Dave Brubeck Quartet (Time Out, 1959): The best selling jazz single of all time features a memorable piano vamp in 5/4 time.
Never Meant by American Football (American Football, 1999): The subject of many a music meme, this track’s opening riff is most easily described in terms of 6/4 or 12/8 time.
By Fire by Hiatus Kaiyote (Choose Your Weapon, 2015): Like many Hiatus Kaiyote songs, By Fire changes time signatures like nobody’s business. This track alternates between ¾, 2/4, and 4/4 and is tied together by Perrin Moss’ drumming.
That’s all for this playlist! What are some of your favorite songs in odd time signatures?