The Breakdown: Blank Face, by Schoolboy Q


Henry: Blank Face is hard to read. Schoolboy Q’s latest release has me staring, trying to read its expression. The problem with being on TDE is that the Kendrick comparisons are inevitable, and although he still isn’t winning those, Q has clearly been in the classroom, honing his craft alongside some of the best rappers in the game right now. His vocal delivery here is solid, varied, laid back yet energetic, and complimented by a host of producers who maintain a steady energy throughout. What the album lacks is a clear statement. The series of videos released for Blank Face tell a story of Q getting caught up in a robbery with his homies, but the songs only loosely correspond to the narrative in the visuals. Given just the music, it’s hard to discern any particular focus. Maybe this unreadability is the meaning of the title, an inscrutable facade, empty as a blank page.  Then again, maybe I’m reading too far into it…

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The Augmented Reality of Pokemon Go

There are little monsters all around us, hiding in the air, crouched in the grass, peeking out of our pockets. They cluster in public spaces, around parks and monuments, drawn by scraps of food, or by the scent of incense hanging on the breeze. They are the same monsters we saw as children, the ones we had all but forgotten, and now they’re back.

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The Was: Sampling from Memory

(Edit: Due to massive amounts of copyright infringement, The Was has been taken off Vimeo. It can now be found here.)


The gang’s all here. When Soda_Jerk and The Avalanches get together, they invite everybody they know. The recently released collaboration between the two sample-based groups is one of those things that, having happened, now seems utterly inevitable. Both make new things out of old things, one with film, the other with music. The fruit of their union comes to us in the form of a thirteen minute audiovisual collage of movies and cartoons spanning more than sixty years, accompanied by a medley of songs from The Avalanche’s latest album, Wildflower.

The experience of watching it is a kind of sensory unmooring, a drift back through the cultural consciousness in a series of scenes laid over one another with the cohesion of a dream logic that never seems to quite reveal itself, just as the music never quite settles into this or that song. We see faces we know, places we recognize, but the words don’t always match up to the movements of the lips, and the people aren’t always where they should be.

Just before the halfway point, Beavis and Butthead trudge through the paint-huffing scene from Citizen Ruth. A naked Steve Martin from The Jerk wanders by, covering himself with dogs. “Marie, Marie!” He cries.

Everything decent’s been done,” says Butthead, borrowing a monologue from Pump Up the Volume. “All the great themes have been used up, turned into theme parks. So I don’t really find it exactly cheerful to be living in the middle of a totally exhausted decade, where there’s nothing to look forward too and no one to look up to.”

But the early 90’s malaise doesn’t last long. The next scene has everyone pillaging the supermarket to the tune of Biz Markie, pulling things off the shelves, gorging themselves on whatever they can find. This is how sampling works. The Was is an exercise in defeating the exhaustion of the used-up by breaking it all down, picking up the fragments and rearranging them into something that is both unrecognizable and familiar.

From there, the video moves into a realm of double exposure as the Lords of Dogtown skate through a mashup of pool parties. The pool is at once empty and full, the water receding with a rush into the blue concrete wave of a SoCal afternoon. The finale comes in bursts of flame across suburbia, on roofs and bushes, a faint fire that might be in front of the couples kissing beside whitewashed houses, or might lie just beyond them. It’s difficult to tell, with everything as a calculated unsettling of the images, all of them flickering together at once. All in all, it’s a strangely comfortable feeling of disorientation.

“It’s a world of fantasy,” sing the chorus girls, and they’re right. It still is. It always was.


Henry Whittier-Ferguson


Yeezy’s King Mattress & The Composition of Fame

Here it comes. Another goddamn epiphany about Kanye West. I know what you’re thinking, but there’s no way around it. The man continually demands our attention. That’s actually what this whole thing is about. Micah and I reviewed The Life of Pablo earlier this year, and my feelings regarding the album haven’t really changed–I still think it’s all over the place, and doesn’t really function holistically as a piece of music.

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The Breakdown: Still Brazy, by YG


Micah: I tried writing a review for this album in our typical format, but it didn’t work. It was difficult expressing how much I liked it while repeating myself on every song. Still Brazy needs to be addressed as a whole because the songs are incredibly similar to each other, but work together towards a single end. The album is straight up hard hitting West Coast gangster rap that combines glossy production with grimy and guttural raps. YG is menacing yet soft spoken, and his delivery is blunt. It is very clear what YG wants to say. He does not want you coming to where he’s from, he’d very much like to know who shot him, he thinks  American politicians and the justice system are against people like him, and to be honest, he’s probably right. Read more The Breakdown: Still Brazy, by YG

The Eventual Heat Death of the Superhero Franchise

The end of the universe may come as a state of perfect equilibrium, a point of balance between all forces and exchanges such that nothing is capable of happening. At that point, we will all be thoroughly bored to death. This year’s blockbuster contributions from both Marvel and DC have brought us incrementally closer to such a death, a series of films depicting the superheroic clash of various costumed ideological vehicles, all amounting to more or less nothing.

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Shooting

I have heard that sometimes being shot does not hurt,

or hurts only vaguely, like a sense of missing something.

This is the body, shocked, uncomprehending of magnitudes,

of calibers, of numbers whose referent is many lives, is life,

the unity divided, the division made whole, the body

without organs, the organs bleeding together.

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The Breakdown: Stranger to Stranger, by Paul Simon


Micah: Paul Simon is my favorite songwriter of all time. From his folk work with Art in the 60’s, to his singer-songwriter rock and roll in the 70’s, to his explorations into foreign rhythms and sounds in the 80’s, to his missteps in the 90’s, and to his rebirth in 2006, Paul Simon has set a new standard for longevity amongst his contemporaries, a list which includes Bob Dylan, Paul McCartney and Neil Young.

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People out of Objects: Serengeti & Characters

Hip-hop is a genre caught in a crisis of identity, an art perpetually torn between an unquenchable thirst for swagger and age-old truisms like keep it real and don’t front. Rap demands self-assured confidence, but it also demands honesty, and striking a balance between these two poles is perhaps the single greatest challenge there is. Still, there are artists hard at work doing just that. Serengeti is one of those artists. To figure out how he’s doing it, we might start with the following question:

Who is the “I” in a rap song? And as a follow up: does that “I” have to be real?

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The Breakdown: Coloring Book, by Chance the Rapper

Micah: I have been waiting for this album for a long time. Acid Rap came out three years ago, and Surf felt more like a Social Experiment album featuring Chance than the other way around. I’ve been missing that positive, bouncy, gospel-tinged raps from the fiercely independent Chance the Rapper. Since he got on the map, Chance has reinvested his momentum back into the musicians that helped him create his music, the city he lived in, and his sonic foundation.

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