Kamasi Washington – Street Fighter Mas

I’ve never been more excited for an album than I am for Kamasi’s upcoming release. Today he shared the newest single from the project, and it’s so, so good.

The bass guitar sound has been modified to create a funk vibe. One thing to remember is Kamasi is a jazz artist, and while the two genres are similar, they are different in some aspects. Street Fighter Mas combines two of the music genres most likely to make you feel like an old school, cool-type brotha.

Strings and vocals are used in conjunction with each other, rising and descending in scales together, creating a haunting scene. It’s reminiscent of being on the last lap of a race, and all your energy is spent. Victory is possible, but you’re going to have to bleed to do it; this song sounds like what the rest of that closing lap feels like.

Not only does the music inspire you to sport your swagger, it touches your heart and soul. There’s an area, deep within my heart that contains my hope, my authenticity, and my kernel of spirit that separates me from you. Street Fighter Mas hits me right there.

We all learn the basics of how our world works, and we differ in how we express our knowledge. That knowledge can be expressed in music, in poetry, in literature, in dance and many other countless ways. Something genuine is at the heart of this song, and truly, in all of Kamasi’s songs. Street Fighter Mas is a testament that knowledge, explicit or implicit, can be shared through music.

Pusha T – The Story of Adidon

It’s been a long time since hip-hop heavyweights have engaged in lyrical beef.

Pusha T vs Drake

This is the latest installment of the feud, and Pusha T has the upper hand.

Update:

When this dropped, I was too hype to write anything about it. Not since 50 Cent vs Ja Rule have two mainstream artists beefed with each other. The result of that beef was Ja Rule’s career was ended.

Pusha T & Drake’s beef is now real, but it didn’t start between them. Various rap blogs say the original beef was between Lil Wayne and Clipse. Back in the day, they both wore Bape, and the animosity began once fans started saying one artist copied the other. That’s it.

Time passed, and Drake is now a rapper signed to a record deal under Lil Wayne. Drake took it upon himself to inherit Lil Wayne’s beef, and started sending shots at Pusha T.

Most recently, Pusha T released a new album, DAYTONA, and on it he disses Drake. Within twenty four hours, Drake responded with a track of his own. Things then settled down, and no one heard anything new from Pusha T or his crew. Four days later, Pusha T released The Story of Adidon. One of the most scathing diss tracks released in this decade.

Specifically, the tracks that have set off current events are: Infrared, Duppy Freestyle, and The Story of Adidon. The explanations of the disses can be found on Genius.

Tee Grizzley – “Activated”

Tee Grizzley’s debut album “Activated” is a near perfect, lifestyle album. Over the course of an hour, divided into 18 tracks, Grizzley provides a well-crafted album of G shit. He celebrates his newfound riches, reflects on his life before the success, and displays the pure ambition of an up and comer carving out a space for himself. For those not familiar with his sound, Tee is known for Midwestern/Southern drum kits, resounding bass kicks and piano key melodies, arranged together into hard hitting, bounce tracks or smooth, walking pace songs. Tee Grizzley makes “Activated” shine by taking this regional sound and applying universal appeal to it.

The appeal is Tee’s story, Grizzley himself. “Activated” listens like the story from a guest speaker, as well as one of his journal entries. Songs like I remember and Time are the obvious journal entries, reliving and processing a past life of poverty and incarceration. Bag is when Tee becomes a public speaker, telling the listener to continue their grind because victory is sweeter after struggle.

While the troubled part of his history makes appearances, it is balanced by the other lighthearted tracks. 2 Vaults and Jettski Grizzley are two of my favorite bangers. The first is a dark ode to being player, and the second is a vibrant ode to being player. When he doesn’t include features, Tee carries songs with his own flow, using quick, aggressive delivery for verses and autotune for choruses. On “Activated,” Tee shows true talent: making diverse solo tracks and standing on his own with features.

“Activated” is a regional-sounding album through and through, but his lyrics and production elevate it to nationwide appeal. The effect is an album that’s simultaneously personal and expositional, familiar and novel. “Activated” is one of the best albums of its sound, so it may not be everyone’s taste, but it’s a great kickoff for his album discography, and a great introduction to Tee Grizzley.

Childish Gambino – This Is America

“Wow.”

That’s what I said after watching Childish Gambino’s new music video: This Is America.

I first listened to the song on Spotify, and honestly, I thought it was just ok. Unfortunately, I believe it’s not meant to be heard that way; it’s only complete when listened to while watching the video.

Taken together, This Is America is a critique of our social and political environments. The lyrics in the song contrast wildly with the urgency felt after the depictions of violence and chaos. In the song, the lyrics are represented as being sung by us. We are Childish Gambino as he sings, dances and parties in a world falling apart.

However, the lyrics are so focused on nothing but adlibs and materialism that it becomes apparent we aren’t using music only for a chance to catch our breath, but we are avoiding reality, passively becoming part of the problem.

Furthermore, the video only has two images of innocence and refuge: the first is of the man who plays the guitar when you first hear it, and the second is of the choir as the camera pans over them. In both scenes, they are shot in cold blood, then followed by the refrain: This is America.

Childish Gambino is telling America that it doesn’t allow innocence and knowledge, man and nature to live in harmony. * In its place, a capitalistic message is offered as comfort and justification: get your money.

I believe This Is America is a frustration with this culture. It pushes us into one way of being, disallowing us to express ourselves in different ways. Per the video, America is about survival, and we cannot be anything other than violent and greedy.

Sadly, Gambino cannot save us. The end of the video shows him running from either 1) the mob of people chasing him or 2) they are all running from an unseen threat. As you can see, Gambino leaves us in the dark as to what brought us to the current state we are in. However, we do know what we are, and if we don’t like what we see in the mirror, the chaos and violence surrounding us, then it’s time to cut the adlibs off, and extend your hand to your neighbor.

Childish Gambino is not a rapper, or an artist I know well, but I look forward to seeing and hearing what he fuses into his next, and last album.

MorMor

I was listening to Beats1 radio this morning, and host Julie Adenuga said something I found poignant. She was talking about the band Basement Jaxx, and that she sometimes forgets how good they are. That’s not the poignancy; it’s Why she forgets. Like all of us, she gets caught up in the 9-5 grind during the week, and on the weekend, she just wants to forget about it all. Like all of us, she gets caught up in living a life.

MorMor is someone I forgot I liked. Weeks ago, I listened to their song “Whatever Comes To Mind,” and added it to my library. I haven’t listened to it since; I got caught up in living a life. Like I said earlier, I was listening to Beats1 radio, and Julie Adenuga played a new song that I had to add to my library: “Heaven’s Only Wishful.” I obsessively replay songs I like, so during the third listen I looked up the artist only to find I’ve already liked their only other song available.

I don’t know about you, but this can’t be mere coincidence. MorMor is someone I might become a big fan of.

“Heaven’s Only Wishful” is the first single from MorMor. On this track, MorMor croons over a ballad vibe, guitars and synth are brought together to create a funky, ambient jam. Driving the song is a simple, crisp drum beat that doesn’t fight for visibility on a track that demands intimacy. The opening lyric also defines where the intimacy comes from: vulnerability. He says “I’m just a poor boy, waiting for answers.” The music does a good job mirroring this character.

The lyrics continue on the theme of vulnerability, and the effect of the world’s chaos on a person’s mentality. At one point or another, we realize the limits of what we can control, and “Heaven’s Only Wishful” is a good coping mechanism for a world at odds with each other.

Towards the end of the song, MorMor lets loose. The clean electric guitar picks up some distortion, and Mormor, who’s been delicately singing up to now, begins to inject some anger in repeating the closing outro: “Some say/ You’re the reason I/ I feel this way.”

All in all, “Heaven’s Only Wishful” is a realized song about true emotions. Today’s topics are vulnerability, coping, social awareness, and the fight to handle them maturely. Sonically, MorMor’s production blends very well with the poetry of the lyrics, producing a driving, pensive experience.

When taking this first single, and considering it along with his second, “Whatever Comes to Mind” (which didn’t get talked about a lot here) MorMor starts to seem a virtuoso of tenderness. His easy guitarwork and delicate vocals are staples of his sound, but it doesn’t keep him from providing music of differing moods, all with a touch of intimacy. Also possessing talented songwriting, MorMor is a promising figure in the music scene to come.

Rae Sremmurd – “SR3MM, Swaecation, JXMTRO”

After the release of Migos’ Culture II, I read an article about its “absurdly” long playtime. Per the article, album sales are a traditional way recording artists earn money, but streaming has completely altered that avenue. In response, “the industry” has said that 1500 streams of any song/s equate to one album sale. Therefore, if you listen to Stir Fry 1500 times, that’s one album sale for Migos. The article says a long track list, like Culture II’s 24 tracks, is only an attempt to provide singles capable of meeting the 15-stream threshold. They say this approach denies the fans of artistic vision, instead giving them trends.

On paper, Rae Sremmurd’s third album, SR3MM, looks like it might be the same thing. It’s a triple disc album: SR3MM is the duo Rae Sremmurd, JXMTRO is Slim Jxmmi’s solo debut, and Swaecation is Swae Lee’s solo debut. The totality of this project is 27 tracks at a playtime of 1 hr 41 min, and that’s where the similarities to Culture II ends.

Each disc is only 9 tracks long, and the playtime of 100 minutes equates into 30 minutes per disc. That is very accessible, very digestible, and very smart. It reduces the fatigue on the listener, and lets each artist, Rae Sremmurd, Slim Jxmmi, and Swae Lee, focus on their projects and their sound.

Firstly, Slim Jxmmi and Swae Lee couldn’t have more opposed sounds. For JXMTRO, Slim Jxmmi adopted the southern rap vibe. It’s a solid body of work, and Jxmmi sounds natural here. Business as usual is young boy swag with grown man pressures, trap beats and street wisdom. Mike WiLL Made it produced a majority of this disc, and Slim Jxmmi effortlessly fuses into the beats.

For Swaecation, Swae Lee chose a melodic vibe. His production choices are funk infused, ambient environments that work well with his use of auto tune. Swae gives us an assortment of songs here: Guatemala is a club banger, Heartbreak In Encino Hills is what you’d play laid up with someone, and What’s In Your Heart is alternative R&B.

Lastly, as a duo on SR3MM, the two sides come together. Swae Lee raps, and Slim Jxmmi sing-songs. After hearing their solo albums, the talent of mixing the two forces becomes apparent. Rae Sremmurd is potent because each member has their own wave, and each is made sharper by the other. Since hitting the scene with Mike WiLL in 2013, Rae Sremmurd has been a staple in hip-hop, and SR3MM solidifies their place. Now, with the release of their respective solo albums, Slim Jxmmi and Swae Lee expand their territory. They’ve become a cornerstone of hip-hop for right now, and some time to come.

Jack Harlow

What’s the price of individuality? Miles Davis once said: “If you understood everything I said, you’d be me.” According to Miles, having an individual thought means sometimes being the only one who feels what you feel. In the lead up to JMBLYA, I’m listening to the artists in the lineup who I’m not as familiar with. Today is Jack Harlow’s day, and after listening to Harlow’s music, I think he’d agree with Miles.

His first project, The Handsome Harlow EP, stands as his introduction to the world. Here he showcases his vibe and flow. It’s a short, fun listen. The track, “Power Tools”, is his manifesto. He says: “spit flow, get dough, that is the career path, told them I’m a rapper but they ain’t tryna hear that…I’m just trying to focus on what matters to me, I understand the value of a Masters degree, but that ain’t for me…cause I been looking but I haven’t found me any patience for/ anything that has to do with balancing equations or/ stoichiometry, Pythagorean theorem, I’m looking at my teacher but don’t actually hear’em.”

Undoubtedly, Jack Harlow believes hip hop is his lane, and I believe him, too, but as you can see, not everyone does. His individuality comes at the cost of being misunderstood, but don’t play yourself. Jack Harlow can rap, like, with an actual flow.

What can be seen across his subsequent releases is progression and improvement. He has a good talent for making his cadence bounce with the beat and use it to tell you stories. For example, his follow up project, and debut album, 18, focuses on a darker, moodier sound. Along with the sonics, his lyrics demonstrate a self-awareness. He tells you what he’s doing, why he’s doing it, and how he feels about it. Altogether, it’s a great album. It’s refined, focused, and most importantly, knocks the trunk. Lastly, his most recent album, Gazebo, is a development of Jack Harlow’s sound, and an intro to new things he can do. On “Routine”, he employs the rarely used auto tune, and turns into the hook man, singing the chorus himself. It’s to good effect, he sounds like a young Drake transported to 2017.

Jack Harlow is steady working and improving with every release, so I’m surprised to find an unassuming 19 or 20 year old at the heart of all this. I expected to see a flashier guy, but Jack Harlow doesn’t need all that right now. I think Jack Harlow has what it takes to create a major wave, and the staying power to ride it out.