I slept on J. Cole for a long time. I wasn’t bumping 2014 Forest Hills Drive when it came out and it took about six months of critical acclaim for me to realize that his music was undeniable. He’s not a complicated rapper, but his writing style is a demonstration of the value of being clear and direct. You know exactly what Cole is talking about when he raps. You don’t have to print out the lyrics and bust out a red sharpie, a dictionary and an encyclopedia (or more realistically, just check Rap Genius) to figure out what he’s trying to tell you. Cole makes it easy for his audience to understand his flaws and insecurities in the stories he tells.
What does it take to turn culture to myth? How do we in 2016 enshrine a way of living, speaking, being? This year, The Get Down, on Netflix, and Atlanta, on FX, took on the ancient project of mythologizing, both looking at hip-hop episodically, through the lens of a television camera. But though the center of their focus is the same, their approaches are remarkable in their nearly diametric opposition to one another.
It all started with Lost—as I’m fond of saying about nearly any network television show featuring any kind of sci-fi, fantasy, or mystery elements. Lost premiered at a time when science fiction on television was brusquely relegated to the Syfy channel or nostalgic reruns of those campy yet halcyon series of space travel; a time when network television desperately needed something to come along and dislodge the apathetic viewership of long-slogs like CSI and American Idol; when middle class families like mine would typically gather to watch whatever sitcom was on between the rotely formulaic case-solving and bloated reality television; and maybe most importantly: when network television was all we had, unless we were paying for premium channels.
I’ve been following Donald Glover’s career since 2006 when he was a part of Derrick Comedy, making Youtube shorts. I remember showing all my high school friends videos like Bro Rape, Hip Hop, and Jerry Poops His Pants. It certainly isn’t high brow, but they were doing something unique on a brand new platform before it became ubiquitous. After they stopped making videos, Donald fell off my radar until he began writing on 30 Rock and appearing on Community. His music started to peak my interest when I heard Because the Internet, STN MTN/Kauai and his feature on Chance the Rapper’s Acid Rap. It was clear that his delivery had progressed past the nasal quality of his early work and he was proving himself to be a charismatic and engaging performer. Since then he’s amassed a huge following and had a breakout year with his TV show Atlanta. When I heard he was making a funk record, my hopes for new music from Gambino skyrocketed.
Micah: From the jump this album lets you know it will be politically charged, calling for solidarity among those wanting to see the country “go left and not right”. The message is underscored by the fact that Tribe has been unable to make music together for nearly twenty years due to creative and personal differences, making this album both a reunion and a farewell. There is something poignant about the group coming together one more time to make music that calls for the kind of peace, love, and unity that they’ve always stood for as members of the Zulu Nation.
It’s been amazing to watch Anderson .Paak’s rise to prominence over the last year. From his initial link up with Knxwledge. to working with the likes of Dr. Dre, DJ Premier, Kendrick Lamar, and Eminem, he’s truly become a force to be reckoned with. If you’ve been sleeping on him, here’s a little playlist to get you started:
Henry: .Paak and Knxwledge. are back, stylin’ as always, singing praise on high. Anderson .Paaks’ signature exaltation becomes the title of their second collaboration, which builds on choice cuts from their debut EP, filling the project out into a 19-track ride that’s about as smooth as smooth gets. Though the scope is perhaps less ambitious than .Paak’s January LP Malibu, Yes Lawd is more musically cohesive, an argument for the one-producer-per-album rule which modern artists often ignore.
Danny Brown is going further and further out. Or maybe it’s more down and inward. Since 2008’s Hot Soup, he’s been getting more atmospheric, more stylistically diverse, and more singularly identifiable. His latest release, Atrocity Exhibition, is his most abstract yet, and the most reliant on Danny’s unmistakable voice as the central instrument. Everything else is faded, distorted, bare, pulled back or pushed up and out of the way to make room for the man himself, the main attraction, Danny Brown in the depths of his depravity. The question is, will we follow him down?
White Bear Polar Tundra is, I guess, alternative rock. They didn’t invent the term, but they’ve embraced it. I’ve always been a little confused by it, myself. Alternative to what, exactly? Alternative to pop rock? Classic rock? Hard rock? Glam Rock? Punk Rock? Alternative to choral music or rap music or jazz? Of course it’s an alternative to all of these things–everything is an alternative to everything. I try not to get too caught up in sub-genre micro-distinctions, but this one kinda bugs me, because it seems to set up an opposition that doesn’t really have to exist.
How do we remember? What is it that clings to us long after the moment has gone? Memory tends to exist first as a series of images, of sensations encoded in words that we then arrange as we piece together the narratives we think of as our remembered lives. The unsettling truth, though, is that all of these stories are our own constructions, and once we start sifting through them, trying to pin down the kernels of reality, they begin to drift apart, vaporous as curls of smoke escaping up from the dance floor.