Vintage First Take Is Irreplaceable

Skip Bayless and Stephen A. Smith were the greatest duo in Television Sports Journalism. They were the Jordan-Pippen; The Wade-LeBron; The Shaq-Kobe of sports writers for ESPN. No disrespect to Max Kellerman – Skip’s replacement on First Take, nor Shannon Sharpe – Skip’s respective replacement for Stephen. They have their own characteristics which still make First Take and Undisputed worth watching, they even have some striking similarities to who they’re “replacing” with regards to their appearances and how they argue, yet it’s nothing compared to the magic of what Skip and Stephen were able to create on ESPN First Take.

Here’s a classic argument between the two people from 2012:

Observe the overwhelming passion of Stephen in his argument, and then compare it to Skip’s subtle shade of trolling and baiting Stephen into a completely different argument; instead of a simple “Would Team USA beat the 1992 Dream Team?”, Skip states “LeBron’s approach to this idea of playing against the Dream Team is too weak”, Stephen argues that it’s LeBron’s sign of “respect” since the Jordan and the other predecessors of LeBron are crucial factors in shaping today’s game – in both its rules and market. However, Skip completely disregards that idea and further argues that Kobe Bryant would have said “Team USA would beat the 1992 Dream Team” with much more conviction in his delivery, thus highlighting a common belief among fans, and an argument against him, that LeBron James is not mentally-willing enough to beat his competition. The argument then devolves from a “Team vs. Team” concept between 2012 Team USA and 1992’s Dream Team, to that of a “Player vs. Player” concept between Lebron and Michael Jordan, Larry Bird and Michael Jordan, with Scottie Pippen and Magic Johnson’s name thrown in between. All of this just because of Skip’s clear rage-baiting and trolling. Skip finishes the argument by changing the parameters of the idea once again from a 7-game playoff-esque series to a winner-takes-all game, which Stephen agrees the 1992 Dream Team would win simply because of their competitive spirits, thus proving Skip’s rather-irrelevant points and completely dismissing the argument of “respect” which he started in the first place.

That type of dialogue between the two of them feels like something straight out of a novel or film, the way their 2 characters play off one another is irreplaceable. The way these two people demand our attention, move conversation and draw us in to their words are so picture-perfect, that it’s to the point where we barely even acknowledge the third character on screen with them – Cari Champion.

Here’s another great moment between the two of them:

Notice the difference of rationality between the two of them; Skip barely has any, Stephen clearly uses it all. Stephen doesn’t acknowledge all-stars as X-Factors for decisive games because their status in the league already implies the expectation that they will “show up” and perform their duties, so he qualifies X-Factors as role-players who tend to be crucial to teams, yet aren’t all-star caliber status, therefore Stephen states that Serge Ibaka will be an X-Factor for the OKC Thunder against Miami Heat since he isn’t all-star caliber status, but averages a considerable amount of points, rebounds and blocks in the playoffs for a center. That’s a rational argument and perspective, right?

Well, Skip argues that Dwyane Wade is the game’s X-Factor simply because he outperforms LeBron James and Kevin Durant, their respective team’s best players, from time to time. Irrational argument right? How can Dwyane Wade, an established all-star and champion, be an X-Factor to a game when his status alone already demands a dominant performance? Sure, you could say that Skip had different parameters than Stephen when it came to defining an X-Factor, but it doesn’t exactly excuse his blatant arrogance towards Stephen’s point, nor does it counter it. Serge still averages more blocks, rebounds than Wade as a role-player so if he performs as his usual self, he may be a greater deciding factor than Wade.

Just watch the video and notice how it feels like Skip didn’t even argue for the sake of winning, he argued for the sake of trolling and getting Stephen all worked up over something so petty. That’s what made First Take so enjoyable to watch back then. That’s what made Skip different to Max, and that’s what made Skip and Stephen’s dynamic so irreplaceable.

 

Advertisements

The Low End Theory At 26 Years-old Today

By the late ’80s the start of the ’90s, the Native Tongues collective from New York were leading a type of “cubist-movement” within the genre of Hip Hop; challenging the commercial success of gangster-rap, and rejecting audiences’ ideas of how a rapper should be. Artists from the Native Tongues collective were quintessential to the culture and its history through the way they approached the genre differently – both sonically and aesthetically – and in doing so, are credited as pioneers for Kanye West’s early-career, the Soulquarians-movement, the Pharcyde, and most other “concious-rappers”.

Image result for native tongues

The Native Tongues and their “cubist-movement” in Hip Hop reached a creative peak between 1991 and 1993 with the releases of albums like “Black Reign”, “Buhloone Mindstate”, “De La Soul Is Dead”, “Midnight Marauders”, and particularly A Tribe Called Quest’s “Low End Theory”. Stripped of the funny Afrocentric costumes from their previous album; A Tribe Called Quest were thrust into the centre of New York’s Hip Hop scene with The Low End Theory. An album which defined the smooth, jazzy-soul loops that would be known as East Coast’s standard sound until the Puffy era. Tribe’s sound on this album is still so fresh and clean to this day, that even Dr. Dre admitted he studied the sonics of The Low End Theory while crafting The Chronic. Sound check The Low End Theory against De La Soul Is Dead, or any other contemporary release, with the same speakers to hear the difference for yourself.

Related image

The Low End Theory is A Tribe Called Quest’s “coming-of-age”; it’s an album where the group truly find themselves, and are done searching for influences or experimenting. The group defines what they’re drawn to – sonically and aesthetically – and don’t make any compromises about it for an attempted-exchange in mainstream appeal. It’s the group’s 2nd studio album so the story of the its conception isn’t completely told if you don’t consider the Native Tongues’ previous works that preceded it: “People’s Instinctive Travels and The Paths Of Rhythm”, “Straight Out The Jungle”, “3 Feet High & Rising”, and “All Hail The Queen” are examples of the Native Tongues’ works which established their early-styles and their strong Afrika Bambaataa influence; however, The Low End Theory captured A Tribe Called Quest’s own ethos, pathos, and logos without the Native Tongues’ influence, and set them apart from the collective as their own individual characters – as Phife eloquently raps so on “Scenario”: “My days of paying dues are over / acknowledge me as in there”.

Inspired the fast-paced and ever-changing lifestyle that their newly-found fame and wealth brought them; Tribe’s songs on The Low End Theory had a constant motif about their era’s technology, pop-culture, political-climate, and social-statuses, but there were undertones of Afrocentric textures and heavy jazz influences throughout the album too. The motifs are used in a way to “humanize” the group and avoid a sense of alienation among their audience and peers, but the afrocentricity and jazzy flavours of the album are used to keep the artists grounded to their culture and true to themselves too.

But by far and away, the most impressive part of The Low End Theory was the group’s rapping; particularly how they approached their songs’ subjects and messages. Instead of telling stories through the use of rhymes, the Tribe were instead distilling the essence of their subjects through abstracted lyrics. While the group were asking listeners “can I kick it?” on their last album, they were now inviting listeners to contemplate and deconstruct fragments of Q-Tip’s childhood on “Excursions” – the album’s opening track – with the lines: “Back in the days when I was a teenager / Before I had status and before I had a pager”.

The group were now strongly declaring their artistic visions, and pairing them with jazz-flavoured instrumentals and African influences; doing it all while using subtle, poetic strokes which articulated their lives and perspectives as 21-year-old emerging stars. The grounds which the group broke on this record has inspired everyone; from Nas to Drake. Neither tough guys nor suckers; the group’s confident delivery, genuine sentiments, and musicianship on this album cannot be denied by intellectuals or “gangsters”. This appeal wasn’t lost on Q-Tip either, as he broke it down quite simply on “Verses From The Abstract“: “Women dig the voice, brothers dig the lyrics / Quest the people’s choice, we driving for the spirit.”

The Native Tongues and their works were radical deviations at the time, in comparison to the commercially-successful “gangster-rap” and Hip Hop’s status-quo. Yet no matter how controversial the group’s styles were, or no matter how much criticism they received, the Native Tongues have established themselves firmly in the roots of Hip Hop. The innovations, the techniques, and the outputs of the group ensured that they’d become part of Hip Hop’s heritage. Universal adulation in hip-hop is practically unattainable nowadays, but in 1991 A Tribe Called Quest and The Low End Theory enjoyed an embrace that almost no other rapper and/or album has, before or since.

A Tribe Called Quest’s “Low End Theory” defined the group as one of the most influential-forces of the ’90s and even today.

Image result for low end theory album cover

XXXTENTACION – Don’t Look At Me

With the recent domestic-abuse allegations, “17” album, a place on the 2017 XXL-freshmen list, and now a new music video for “Look At Me”; Florida-state rapper – XXXTentacion – has been placed firmly into the limelight of today’s Hip Hop. In fact, just last week his debut-album – 17 – sold 86,000 units on its first week, with streaming-services accounting for 85% of its sales alone (1,500 streams = 1 album sale. Do the math), thus outselling fellow XXL-Freshman Lil Yachty and his debut album – Teenage Emotionsby almost twice as much on its first week, all as an independent-artist too, while Lil Yachty is signed to QC and Capitol (a major label). Therefore, it’s safe to assume that XXXtentacion does have “star” power comparatively better than that of his contemporaries, and he will be here to stay in the industry until proven otherwise; but just what makes X so appealing to others? I just don’t get it.

Sure, X has got a couple of songs that “slaps in the whip” like “Look At Me”, and he has a plethora of songs that dwell in raw youthful-emotions like “I Don’t Wanna Do This Anymore” and “I spoke to the devil in miami, he said everything would be fine” – I get it, and I understand how people could connect with these songs or just find it appealing. But as an artist; is X really all that? Does he really deserve to transcend all his contemporaries in the rap-game?

17: X’s debut album, was a project he said was marketed to an audience of “those who suffer from Depression”; but did the music deliver what X intended it to? I don’t think so. Firstly, I think the album was heavily restricted by its 22-minute run time to really explore the many ideas about depression or dissect it from multiple lenses – it’s just such an intense topic with many layers of contexts, and it’s something that differs with each person’s experience, that I don’t think 20 minutes – or even 1 hour  – of music is enough for listeners to feel “satisfied” or feel as if they left the record with much more understanding of depression as a whole.

Secondly, I don’t think some of the sonics of this album are very good, nor did I personally enjoy them. Some of the instrumentals just don’t sound polished enough for a studio-effort; “Fuck Love” ft. Trippie Redd sounds like something straight out of SoundCloud, “Carry On” sounds like a Lo-Fi Hip Hop beat from SoundCloud too, “Ayala (Outro)” is a weird instrumental, and certain instruments like the pianos on “Dead Inside” and “Orlando” feel out of place for me.

Thirdly, I didn’t really like X’s “singing” nor did I enjoy his songwriting. I thought his rapping and singing were very monotonous too; I know that he’s trying to progress his sound forward and experiment with different textures but I don’t think these attempts really enhanced the songs and their meanings. You could argue that the monotonous delivery in his flow and his singing were used to convey an idea of “dehumanization” in his character due to mental illness and depression – I can acknowledge that, but I don’t think he executed that idea too well anyways.

Finally, I just don’t think there was enough substance to make this album a profound listen. For an album he marketed for “those suffer from depression”, X really made this album all about himself and his bouts with mental-illness/depression. He just tells you his story but he doesn’t do it with any kind of nuance added on to it; there’s nothing for listeners to really deconstruct in the album’s narrative since X just tells us the whole story anyways, therefore removing layers of characterization and songwriting. It’s hard for audiences to relate with X’s complete struggle against depression since most of them weren’t 19-year olds with a bunch of money, hoes, materialistic items and fame when they were in that mental space; instead, audiences can only relate to the simpler narrative of the songs like “I met a girl, we had a one-night stand, I kept avoiding her, her feelings were hurt, she killed herself and now I feel bad” because that’s something that listeners can – more or less – relate to (maybe not the “she killed herself “ part but definitely the “her feelings were hurt and now I feel bad”, or “her feelings were hurt, she made some bad decisions because of those feelings I brought to her, and I now I feel bad”).

All in all: I guess I just consume music differently than today’s generation of audiences. I’ve come to realize that when I listen to music, I also listen to what an artist has to say and I value it very highly when I’m analyzing just how much I personally liked a project. I’m not suggesting that every artist has to drop something socially-aware like Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp A Butterfly; I even said that my most personally-significant album this year was Rodeo by Travis Scott. I am, however, just saying that as an artist – you’re given a platform to express yourself, yes, but as listeners – we’re given the powers to critique your expression, analyze it and re-interpret it as our own. I think most artists in today’s mainstream, and most artists I dislike, just don’t have any layers or depth in their self-expression though, so as a listener there’s not much for me to analyze and re-interpret as my own.

This shallowness in an artist’s self-expression determines whether or not I like them, and just how much I really do. For example: compare an artist like Lil Uzi Vert to Travis Scott; both artists play on the same themes of heartbreak, drugs and alcohol, but the thing that separates their music fundamentally, for me anyways, is the depth and layers in their music. Travis Scott’s Rodeo was heavily centered on celebrating a lifestyle money, fame, drugs and alcohol – much like Lil Uzi Vert’s Luv Is Rage – but underneath all of Rodeo‘s songs was a rich narrative of Travis Scott coming to terms with his newfound fame and wealth, and trying to stay true to himself despite being surrounded by distractions and fake friends. This narrative of the album is profound; it’s multi-layered and open for many interpretations from many different angles by listeners. Luv Is Rage however, is just a glorification of the lifestyle of drugs, alcohol, fame and money; Lil Uzi Vert doesn’t give listeners much to deconstruct with the way he wrote his songs – there’s not much characterization, and there’s no substantial metaphors; there’s no layers and there’s no open-to-interpretation concepts.

That same idea can be applied to X’s music. I thought 17 really had little-to-no substance behind its lyrics in the sense that there’s nothing for us to really deconstruct and re-interpret for ourselves since X tells his stories with a very heavy 1st-person perspective, with not much characterization of himself or anyone else, and a lack of open-ended ideas; it’s like “hey, this thing happened, and this is how it happened – all from my perspective though – we won’t even bother discussing or mentioning any other party’s perspective” therefore making his songs declarative and closed-off from re-interpretations. The songwriting is still a bit immature too, and I predict that it won’t age well in the next 5 years, or maybe even 12 months.

However, X’s fanbase and the concept of the album being “for depressed people” were what I think really drove the record’s sales, but sales don’t objectively define a product’s quality – it only objectively defines its demand. So perhaps we can assume that this album only sold well because of the demand for X’s music, and/or the demand for music “for depressed people”. Yet fans have been quick to claim that X’s 22-minute album is already album of the year; beating out Kendrick Lamar’s DAMN., Joey Badass’ All Amerikkkan Badass, Brockhampton’s Saturation, Jay Z’s 4:44 and Daniel Caesar’s Freudian. I’m sure I don’t have to compare the depth and layers between those 4 albums and X’s 17; you and I know what’s what.

So what’s with the appeal of XXXTentacion? Is it his aesthetic? Is it his “music for depressed people”? Is it the *sarcastic voice* many layers and depth in his lyrics? or is it just crowd-hype from social media? I don’t know for sure myself, and I’m sure people are attracted to his music for different reasons too, but after listening to his 17 album for a couple of times already, I just don’t get it.

 

 

 

 

The Sun’s Tirade – 12 Months Later.

1 year ago today, Isaiah Rashad released “The Sun’s Tirade”. One of my personal favourite albums from that year, I really love how Rashad narrates his stories with an undertone of anxiety and worries in his words and delivery. They seep through every song as if they could consume him at any moment. Is he about to “blow up” in 2016, or is he about to self-destruct? This element of the album makes his songs more like brief scenes which are all open to interpretation; What you perceive them to mean may be reflective of where you currently are in life — longing, laboring, or lost.

The constant tensions in Rashad’s tone carries a lyrical-motif of both self-loathing and self-discovery, but it also works to expand Rashad’s idea of how the two can be used together harmoniously — always critically question your art. This results in a project heavy with sounds and subjects. Rashad often reveals his deepest doubts and insecurities throughout the album, and he paints his feelings with intoxicated imagery and jazz-flavoured productions, yet instead of an album that just tries to replicate those alcoholic highs and lows, the songs are instead very self-reflective, introspective, clear-eyed, and sobering.

All in all, The Sun’s Tirade is a complex portrait of a man in transition. The album is an evolution for an artist who still may have his best in store. Development and maturity are the main themes unfolding in both Isaiah Rashad’s lyrics and personal life, and that overlap produced one of the great rehab records in recent memory, a collection of songs that both diagnose and medicate. Wallowing in isolation and self-pity nearly drove one of rap’s most promising talents to implode, yet Rashad overcame this adversity with new-found passions and ideas. The Sun’s Tirade is a very moving triumph about facing your internal demons, and coming out on the other side of that tunnel one step closer to feeling completeness rather than complacent.

How Young Thug Bodied Drake’s Sacrifices On A Whole Other Level.

Of all the high moments on Drake’s More Life; from the multiple song transitions (especially 4422-Gyalchester), the string of melodic beats, great guest appearances, infectious hooks, and instant-classic punchlines after instant-classic punchlines… it’s almost universally agreed on by fans and casual listeners that Young Thug had one of the album’s defining moments when he dropped the last verse on Sacrifices, and proved just how much some people slept on him and overlooked his work.

The verse by itself is a story which contrasts Young Thug’s old life of crimes and ignorance, with his new life of fame and riches. It’s layered with double-entendres and allusions, but it goes further than that too. What Young Thug does from a literature-scope; is deconstruct particular scenes of his old life and new life into vignettes of brief lines, then he juxtaposes those lines together with a recurring series of similes.

Check the introductory bars in his verse for example:

I was stealin’ from a bitch
Back when I was 21
My favorite gun was a SIG
20 in the clip, head one
Growin’ up, I was a runnin’ back
You never made me ran once
I got shot, sweat started runnin’
That shit was red like Hunt
I’m kickin’ pimpin’ like I punt
But don’t you think shit’s sweet
I’m talkin’ sweet like deer meat

This recurring series of similes is a nuanced approach for Young Thug to give us an insight into his perspective and subconscious. The similes which he uses throughout the verse are mixed with subtle shades of:

  • comicality (“I’m talkin’ neat like a geek”), 
  • jadedness (“I’m talkin’ wet like Katrina”),
  • childishness (“I’m talkin’ monkey like Jumanji”),
  • urban stereotypes (“I’m talkin’ Rose like Derrick”)
  • suggestiveness (“I’m talkin’ wet like it’s running”),
  • violence  (“Like the President, I’d kill him neat”),

by effect, this technique shows Thugga subtly implying the differences and similarities in his mentality as he transitioned from his life in the streets, into his life of newfound affluence today; he’s still got a sense of arrogance, and still acts a little bit childish thanks to the ghetto’s influence on his character, but he’s also grown more jaded and mature from the wealth he’s accumulated for himself and the violence he’s experienced.

By juxtaposing vignettes of his life with strongly nuanced similes, Young Thug is able to tell the listeners a reinterpretation of: the significance of all those vignettes, how they influenced him, what they symbolized for him, and how it translated into his similes and punchlines.

The verse itself is very self-interested too, and this is shown throughout by the heavy repetition of the “I” pronoun. Young Thug’s verse is all about him and the sacrifices he had to make.  He doesn’t discuss how other people in his life felt, or what they did which didn’t directly involve him – no, he only discusses how he felt, how he acted, and how he saw things. He’s being honest to listeners and that’s evident in the carefree, lack of hyper-articulation in his speech. Yet he’s also serious and critical about his past and wealth, and that’s evident in his less auto-tuned, more stripped-back tone.

I think that it’s ultimately an artist’s duty to be self-reflective of their environment, rather than to act as a representative or figure for others. I believe that’s why the genre and culture of Hip Hop, a particularly minority-driven and youth-based collective of artists and audiences, is seemingly saturated with songs about drugs, poverty, societal-taboos and such — because it’s very self-reflective of the artists lives, and its audiences may resonate well to it too since they may also be from similar experiences. It’s why artists in the genre often draw inspiration from one another, or important minority figures — because those people are relevant to the artists themselves, their perspectives and their culture. Lastly, I think it’s also why Jazz, blues, funk, soul and RnB; genres of music which were birthed and rose to relevance as a form of protest and anti-oppression for minorities, play important roles as the foundation of hip hop’s infrastructure.

I think how Young Thug is viewed as an artist reflects him to be a victim of vilification in a moral-panic situation, but it’s an instance where the moral-panic occurred within the in-group of Hip Hop’s culture rather than its out-group.

Throughout his whole career and rise to relevance, Young Thug was among the several contemporary artists from his time who were constantly denounced by fans of Hip Hop’s “Golden Ages” as the anti-thesis to its era and conscious-rap. It was fast and effortless for them to make these judgments since Young Thug seemingly went against a lot of Hip Hop’s status-quos and taboos from those times (eg. Dressed femininely, rapped about homosexual themes, heavy use of auto-tune), and was seemingly trying to promote a destruction in the negative stereotypes against cross-dressing and homosexuality — something which opposed the views of older rap audiences and “Hip Hop purists”.

Young Thug’s music, rise to relevance, and the controversy around his image also started reshaping the sonic-landscape and culture of Hip Hop by introducing new types of audiences, and influencing a new wave of similar artists into Hip Hop’s “in-group”. This caused older audiences of rap, and “Hip Hop purists“, to feel even more worried about Young Thug’s impact on the culture and genre, then scapegoat him as one of the main artists who were to blame for “rap going wrong”.

On Sacrifices, Young Thug seems to subtly acknowledge this by asking the listeners “do you get it?” several times throughout his verse. Young Thug’s got a seemingly playful tone in the way he asks the question, but that’s only because the song’s beat and pacing masks the line’s level of humourlessness. Contextually speaking, Young Thug’s really asking if: you — the listener of this rap song, which implies you’re in the in-group of this genre — get what he’s trying to artistically achieve? Or do you just skim through his music, and antagonize him for his public image instead?

In terms of the song’s message, Young Thug’s verse fits too. He’s saying he had to make a lot of sacrifices to be where he is now, but it’s not just done in the simplistic rap-cliche of “I sold drugs, I did crimes, my friends died…”, but rather it’s done in a profound level of literary technique use, and by also exploring the idea that he had to sacrifice his image to Hip Hop’s “in-group” to be where he is now.

Young Thug’s verse on Sacrifices was extremely well-nuanced, and clever, I think it’s level of complexity and thoughtfulness truly went over most peoples’ heads. but I think that also says something somewhat-worrying about how music is personally consumed and interpreted by the different generations and types of Hip Hop audiences in 2017.

 

Common — Be

Be: Common’s triumphant second-wind in his career, which saw him regaining his focus in messages and ability to lyrically explore/connect ideas. Further assisted by the production efforts of a younger Kanye West and J Dilla, “Be” re-established Common as a premiere lyricist in the genre of Hip Hop after his string of “soulquarian”/90s albums had come to an end, and fans had felt way too disconnected to understand the ambitious vision of “Electric Circus” – his last studio album prior to this one.

“Be” was a textbook showcase of strong Hip Hop fundamentals – Beats, rhymes and empowerment. Audiences hear Common rap over tasteful soul samples throughout the album; vividly painting stories of Chicago’s ghettos and how it affected himself and the black-youth. Promoting listeners to find new inspirations instead of alcohol-dependency and circumstance-complacency through lyrical motifs which praise his daughter, music, sobriety, role models, god and family. I think Common even addresses how the then-prevalent “Bling-era” of rap had negatively affected black culture on a few songs too.

However, the lyrical content of “Be” never feels too cliché or boring and actually encourages a lot of repeat-listens; Common seems to have meticulously laced each song with layers of double-entendres and wordplay. Of course, there’s the style of Kanye’s early soul-sampling and J Dilla’s production talent too, but I think the strength of those two factors should be credited to Common’s ability to marry vulnerability and self-reflection harmoniously in his flows and lyrics – thus creating one of Hip Hop’s most honest and empowering albums, and further setting a new standard of “conscious-rap”.

Listen to the full album below:

SZA – CTRL (ALT-DELETE?)

After listening to SZA’s recently released debut album, CTRL, more closely throughout the weekend, I think I’ve come to really get a clearer grasp on what SZA was trying to convey throughout the album, and also why I felt like there was an “underlying sense of spirituality and inner-peace in SZA’s lyrics” in a prior blog post here.

CTRL is an album heavily based on the concept of control itself – thus the aptly titled album name. SZA’s words and voice throughout the album seem to greatly reinforce an idea or mantra that you can’t control everything you want to, and it seems like the album forms a loosely linked narrative which focuses around the concept of control too with its first and second half.

The first half of the album sees SZA’s character seeking to be in control of her relationships and ambitions in life; wanting them to be exactly how she sees fit – with tracks Love Galore (ft. Travis Scott) which depict SZA manipulating a relationship for her own benefit and intentionally home-wrecking another man’s relationship for the sake of the thrill of it, or the tracks Supermodel, Prom and Drew Barrymore which sees SZA reflecting upon her insecurities and attempting to change herself to fix these said insecurities, or the track Doves In The Wind (ft. Kendrick Lamar) where she talks about using sex as an act of revenge and dishonest pleasure, and also admitted to via Entertainment Weekly : “[Doves In The Wind] is a song where I talk about sleeping with my ex-boyfriend’s friend because he purposefully left me on Valentine’s Day”

However, the second half of the album sees SZA’s character slowly losing her control of her relationships and paths in life, becoming disdainful and ungrateful about it, but eventually accepting it and coming to terms with her lack of total control of her surroundings, and getting over broken relationships. She learns to just live and go with flow; not becoming discouraged with her absence of control, but rather appreciating the power to influence a situation/relationship which she still has – with the track Broken Clocks exemplifying this idea, by depicting SZA coming into the realization that her romances in life were just interfering with her schedules, and only foreshadowed her eventually being independent. The following track, Anything, even continues the narrative of SZA going with the flow of things and accepting flings for what they are.

The final track on the album, 20-Something, ties up all the previous tracks into a narrative and expresses SZA baring her soul. SZA admits that she doesn’t in fact have her life together, admits that she still hopes to keep all her friends despite her previous lyrics on the album about manipulation, and also admits that she doesn’t have her love life together either. I suppose she calls it 20-something because this is a common scenario which people in their 20s always seem to go through to, at least to a certain extent.

The older SZA becomes throughout the album and the more she experiences; the more control she loses and more inner-peace she finds. I admire that concept, and further admire how she ambitiously translated it artistically with her music and songwriting.

Perhaps CTRL is also just a half, or even a third of an album series from SZA? I think an album series like CTRL-ALT-DELETE would actually be very fitting in terms of this album’s overarching theme of emotionally and mentally stepping back and starting over with relationships and approaches to life — terminating, shutting down and rebooting like the Ctrl-Alt-Delete function itself on your computer.

 

Mars Today – Bits And Pieces

Mars Today — San Francisco artist and Los Angeles based producer — dropped his soul/R&B-styled EP, Bits & Pieces the other day. Released by his hometown-based label, textmerecords, Bits & Pieces is an virtuous record for any season of the year. Sliding guitar lines, soft scatting, and Mars’ soothing vocals just make the album perfect for easy listening in the car or being outside in the sun or studying for a maths test tomorrow (the latter applying to me).

The album’s highlights for me are the opening track, “So Unusual”, “Time Out”, “Stuck” and “wait too long”. Charming guitar lines throughout the EP compliment Mars’ voice, and the use of well-placed horns and light keys continuously keep the instrumentation ear-grabbing for listeners. “Stuck” is a great example of this, as it harmoniously marries delicately falling keys with cafe-type, late-night horns in the first half of the song, and then tastefully transitions its instrumentation in the second half too.

Speaking about the EP on his SoundCloud, Mars wrote: “The goal for this project was to start and finish the songs in a period of four months, so none of the art went stale during the process. I forced myself to commit to artistic decisions instead of second guessing them, and I’m incredibly proud of how it all turned out. It’s basically a compilation of musical short stories chronicling one relationship from it’s hyper-romantic start, to it’s semi-ambiguous end.” and I think it’s hard to critique that approach to music negatively at all. When you get right down to it; an artist’s work ethic is almost always what’s responsible for the final product. And as we’ve seen throughout history, great work ethics have been largely responsible for the conception of some of music’s most celebrated works.

I like Mars’ idea of starting and finishing the production of his songs before they felt/grew metaphorically stale too. I definitely think artists should produce work which is only genuine to their current space of life, or at least reflective of it in a sense (something like homage per-se), even this page of mine is riddled with personal poetry, songs and text-pieces which reflect the state of mind or the time of my life I was in when I published them. It’s just an integral-aspect of art for me I suppose but don’t we all prefer the real over the fake?

Anyways, lighten up your week by listening to Mars Today’s Bits & Pieces EP below:

 

GIL

Before the Cilvia Demo EP dropped, Isaiah Rashad was originally gonna drop a mixtape titled “Pieces of a Kid”. The rumoured mixtape was never released but fans made their own versions instead with songs released by Zay on SoundCloud and others scattered elsewhere. The finished products are 2 well-known mixtapes – Welcome To The Game and Pieces Of A Kid – which to me, could’ve possibly gone down as one or two of Hip Hop’s greatest mixtapes ever.

Instead the fan mixes we’ve got left are just pieces of a hype that could’ve been. Not to take anything away from Cilvia Demo at all, but had Isaiah dropped a mixtape, there may have been a much bigger hype around him, like Joey Badass before he dropped B4.Da.$$ , when he had 2 cult-classic mixtapes under his name already: 1999 and Summer Knights  

Nowadays, the Pieces Of A Kid mixtapes and the story of what they could’ve been, are only really known to Isaiah’s rather small fan-base. I listen to the tapes every now and then and try to imagine what they could’ve been too but instead, I’m more intrigued about how Zay’s pre-TDE SoundCloud leftovers actually formed one of Hip Hop’s most consistent, honest, conceptual and unique 50 minutes.

In less than 2 minutes on GIL/Sounds From Friday Morning, from both mixtapes (and Zay’s Soundcloud), Isaiah performs one of the most heartfelt and personally-relatable songs I’ve ever heard. He expresses, what-could-only-be years of personal turmoil and feelings through juxtapositions and contrasting ideas, with a sense of intoxication in his vocal delivery, Zay also uses clever euphemisms and metaphors to lessen the severity of his depressing topics.

Along with the chilling instrumental too, all of the song’s elements translate to a song which perfectly encapsulates Rashad’s alcohol and narcotics-dependency, depression, social influences, social detachment and youthful restlessness. All in less than 2 minutes.

Other songs from the mixtapes and Zay’s SoundCloud like Part III, 2x Pills, Part II, Hurt Cobaine and ’95 are also worth noting too. Although, both mixtapes are really worth giving a listen. Download Pieces Of A Kid here or Welcome To The Game here. Check out Zay’s SoundCloud, Cilvia Demo EP and The Sun’s Tirade too.