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.

Trippie Redd

In the lead up to JMBLYA this weekend, I’ve been listening to the artists on the lineup who I’m not as familiar with. Today is Trippie Redd’s day. I haven’t been avoiding him; I simply haven’t cracked into him as much as I could. I really like his song with Diplo, “Wish,” and I honestly didn’t even know if that was his sound or not! Today I listened to his two mixtapes: A Love Letter To You and A Love Letter To You 2.

Like I said, I didn’t know what to expect from Trippie. His verses on Wish are sing-song raps, maybe even forlorn sounding, but that could just be me. Both of the mixtapes are part of the new sound of hip-hop, aggressive, bouncy beats with melodic verses. Auto tune is a big part of Trippie’s sound, and that’s not a knock. Old heads will remember when T-pain first brought auto tune to the masses. He caught a lot of shit for that.

The fact is once the auto tune was added, it put voices on equal measure. True, singer voices will always stand out, but the auto tune user doesn’t get a free pass: they need to use it right, or the people just won’t feel it. I think Trippie Redd uses it right.

Specifically, A Love Letter To You isn’t all auto tune. The standout rap track is “Can You Rap Like Me,” and, boy, does Trippie go in! He even does it on an NYC boom bap beat. As hip hop knows, you only attack boom bap beats if you can rap. It’s not the longest flow in the world, but it’s a solid two-minute showcase of lyrical dexterity.

I ask you: if Trippie Redd can, in fact, rap his ass off, why is he sing-songing the rest of the mixtape? I reply: Because he can! I think the fact that the can rap informs his usage of auto tune. Since he knows what a right flow is, he can play with it, stretch it, modify the pitches. And now it goes back to my earlier point of auto tune not being a free pass, but another tool to use for hot songs. The new gen isn’t lacking bars, they just want to have fun with it.

Did I mention that Trippie Redd is only 18? Keep your eye on Trippie, if you aren’t already. He’s not someone to gloss over. His combination of hip hop fundamentals and youthful POV result in creative, engaging hip hop.

Kamasi Washington

I woke up early this morning despite going to the Saba show last night. After I got dressed, I had enough time to stop by my local coffee shop before work and have breakfast. Once I got my food, I put on my headphones, sat by the window and people-watched as I ate. I live by a university, so many, many people were walking by the window. As I watched them scurry about, and thought about my own workday, the music I was listening to inspired a metaphor for what I was watching.

I immediately thought of nature documentaries that focus on the ocean, and, specifically, the scenes that zoom in on a patch of water, allowing you to see the microscopic creatures zooming about. That’s how I imagined my fellow Austinites and I- as almost-invisible, little beings, running around and doing God knows what. I know, I know: very abstract, but it was also serene.

The aptly titled “Space Travelers Lullaby” by Kamasi Washington soundtracked my morning. As you can infer from the title, the vibe is dreamy, atmospheric, and expansive. Kamasi Washington is a jazz musician, and interestingly, he’s worked on some of hip-hop’s most critically acclaimed albums. For example, he has credits on To Pimp A Butterfly, DAMN, and Run The Jewels 3.

As a solo artist, Kamasi has released five albums since 2005, with his breakout project, The Epic, released in 2015. Kamasi’s work is never slacking. This is seen in his intimidatingly long tracks. For example, the shortest song on The Epic is 6 minutes long, and the total album run time is nearly three hours. However, his compositions are worth the listen.

Make no mistake, Kamasi is a jazz musician. His songs have the free-flowing saxophone solos, wild horn blares, and winding melodies that jazz is known for. As an amateur jazz fan, I admit, sometimes it’s all too much, and jazz loses me. Kamasi seems to be aware of this, and he manages to rein in jazz, to give the free-flowing genre some composition, and create a jazz song that feels structured and digestible.

My favorite song by Kamasi is Henrietta Our Hero, a beautifully arranged song about a strong-in-spirit individual, and it surprisingly features a vocalist. I was amazed to learn that you can write lyrics to jazz, instead of jazz living as an instrumental-only genre. I believe Kamasi featuring a vocalist is the exception, and not the rule. Not to be outdone by lyricists, Kamasi himself is able to tell you stories through the music. Consider Leroy and Lanisha-  though there’s no one singing, you can still understand it’s about a love story that lasts through the ages.

Kamasi Washington wrote a song that inspired the perfect metaphor for my morning, my place in this world, and I believe something as multifaceted and intricate as that can only be inspired by similar forces, and Kamasi Washington wields his music with masterstrokes.