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.

Halsey – Alone (Calvin Harris remix)

What I imagine boiling inside of me while listening to this song is hot, crashing waves, simultaneously yellow and blue, coming together and building pressure in a container too small to hold it all. The pressure finally bursts the container, and all you see of this violent rupture is a mad man who’s lost in the music, dancing it all away.

For people like me, the arid victory of principles over instincts creates the need for collective jubilation, for fiestas, for parties. The rules we live by are inherited, but when we party, we ourselves create the rules for the night. People like me are eccentrics. For one reason or another, we break away from society; sometimes to show individuality, sometimes to form tighter groups.

Sometimes I forget the mission we all have is: “to assure an operation of an order in which knowledge and innocence, man and nature are in harmony,” or something like that. This is usually during the day, when the rat race pits us against each other. But during the evening hours of a party, we “get drunk together, trade confidences, weep over the same troubles, discover that [we] are brothers….”

The case for celebrations and parties is a case for unity, individual or collective.  That’s a major component of what Huskii Boi is about. And all of this comes to mind when I listen to this song.

Bite size reviews

Today was a big day for music. Post Malone, Janelle Monae and NBA Young Boy all released new albums on the same day. Not to be outdone, KEY! dropped a new single ahead of his new album, 777.

Firstly, it’s my opinion that Post Malone is a certified hybrid artist. His newest album Beerbongs and Bentleys is a candid look into his personal life, and party experiences. This songwriting agility isn’t what makes him a hybrid artist, though it does help. It’s his musical sensibility that shoots him into the charts’ upper echelon. Post Malone is a rockstar over hip-hop vibes, and he does it credibly. Post shows a mastery of melodies and guitar work, seemingly attracted to its ability to make one sing their heart out. When he adds reverberating 808 drums, it becomes a glossy, bouncy romp with a rock and roll soul. Beerbongs and Bentleys is a good evolution for Post Malone, who came up with hip-hop and demanded to create in other arenas.

Secondly Until Death Call My Name is the newest album from NBA Young Boy, who is coming off a bit controversy. None of this has delayed the album release, or is absent from the album. Young Boy directly and indirectly shows retrospect on his past, and is at a point he’s not happy with all his choices but he can only move forward now. As a musical work, it maintains the style he’s known and refined, quick pace southern beats for when its time to ride, and ballads for when it’s time to decompress. With this record, Young Boy seems determined to own up to his responsibilities, and grow into a maturer artist.

Lastly, KEY! coming out of Atlanta, dropped a new single Kelly Price Freestyle. It’s a banger, featuring cloud like synths and trap bass. It flows well with the sprinkling of auto tune from KEY who I’m used to hearing rap without it. True to his game, KEY is good at flows that keep the party going, and Kelly Price Freestyle is no exception. I’m looking forward to is album 777, releasing this May.

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.

Quin NFN

I went shopping at my local streetwear store yesterday and ended up talking to the sales associate about hip-hop.

“You hear that new J. Cole,” I asked.

“You know, I’m one of the few who’s not really a fan. I know he says good messages, but his music just doesn’t do it for me,” she said.

I didn’t even trip. “So, who do you like?”

“I like Kevin Gates. I like Lucci. I guess you could say I like more ‘gangster’ hip-hop.”

Yesterday was a wakeup call for me. I realized I assumed that every hip-hop fan is concerned with the “Mumble vs Conscious rap” argument. Hop online to see that everywhere, from the artist themselves, to comment sections to podcasts, everyone is giving you their two cents on what real hip-hop is. It passes the time, but it creates real barriers for artists who are just trying to put their music out, and music fans who just want to enjoy themselves.

Hey, Alexis, this one’s for you!

Quin NFN, 17-year-old Austin, Tx native (ayyyyy!), is a hot iron. Whether he’s talking about his girl on “Lil gangsta”, flowing over industry standards in “BODAK BLUE” or mobbing on “Revenge”, Quin NFN snaps on every track. He employs the triplet flow, which is so good at making you rock your shoulders, but he makes it his own by sending it to you as intensely as he can. In an interview with Elevators, he says: “All I’ve seen as a youngin is stuff anybody in any hood in America has seen so I rap about it because I know they don’t have a choice but to feel it.” I think his intensity comes from the need to rep his people, and the stories he’s lived.

What I find most interesting about Quin NFN is when he says he’s been writing raps for 7 years. In that same amount of time, Soundcloud has influenced the game, Migos introduced the triplet flow, and opiates have swept through the country. How does this get translated into the music of a teenager who’s so early in the game? His Soundcloud shows the resulting dexterity; he switches from trap anthem to love song just as quick as the game itself has changed. The old school streets and new school pop are alive in Quin NFN, and as time passes, he’ll only continue to be in a position to add a different take on the industry’s current sounds.

Playlist: TROPICAL

I want you to have friends. A lot of friends. I want you to get them all together, pass around drinks or the greenery, and start this playlist. I want you to find love. Whether it’s just a swipe right, or something more emotionally involved, I want you to grab the one you love, or the one you’re with, and start this playlist.

Today’s playlist “TROPICAL” is a sub-30 minute mix that’s aimed at making you dance, or at the very least, to transport you away from your usual party. As you can guess from the title, TROPICAL is supposed to make you feel like you’re in the Equator: somewhere with hot nights, breezes and green trees. Quoting an artist from the mix, Davido, he says: “Everyone wants to have a good time.”

Specifically, all the songs will be classified as Afrobeat. Like all categories, it’s only a jumping off point. You’ll definitely be familiar with the guitar strums or organ stabs on the up-beat that’s indicative of reggae music. You may also be familiar with the occasional deep bass kick that’s found in dancehall. What makes this playlist unlike them is the pop-oriented vocals, use of current production technologies, and the dancefloor leaning vibe.

Going further, the artists are also a reason this is unlike the past. They refuse to let classical genres restrict them. Per ft, Mr. Eazi would not let his single “Pour me water” be classified as world music. “I put it under ‘pop’,” he says. He doesn’t stop there. He says he lets the talent of musicianship break the barriers others would put up. “If you shed light on African music within the African continent, or even if you were to travel within Nigeria…you’d think: wow the generalizations are unfair. I’ve also played in francophone countries…where, 99 percent of the time, the audience don’t understand what I’m singing in pidgin English. But if you make music that has soul, there’s no limit to where you can go.”

That’s what this playlist is- SOUL. It may move your body in unfamiliar ways, they might say things you believe unintelligible, but an instinctual rhythm lives here that can’t be denied by writing it off. With that said, I invite you and yours into this function of fire ass riddims, into the hot summer nights awaiting us, and into everything that makes the TROPICAL vibe.