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.

Saba- “CARE FOR ME”

What do you think it means when Saba says: “I don’t tell the truth so ya’ll will feel sorry for me, I don’t write this shit so ya’ll will feel God comin’, I don’t get down like that”? It reminds me of another set of lyrics from another artist, and I think this is what it means: “I give a damn if any fan recall my legacy, I’m tryna live life in the sight of God’s memory.” What I think Saba means is something isn’t being done for fame or rewards; something is being done because it fulfills a higher purpose. CARE FOR ME, the fourth album by Saba, is that kind of something.

CARE FOR ME is a heavy, very poetic listen. See, this album is dedicated to his late cousin, and Saba is actually, factually, lyrically gifted. On this album, Saba manages to speak to, about, and through his cousin, about life before and after his death. The higher purpose alluded to at the beginning of this review is closure on a life taken too soon, and growing older, without going crazy, despite a history like this.

Perhaps suggested by the grey tones on the album cover, CARE FOR ME is life as Saba sees it. He’s as honest as black and white. Every song is about something that’s happened in his life, his take on things, and you find him being vulnerable, but it doesn’t suggest weakness. Whether he’s talking about love in the social media age (a recurring theme in the hip-hop game), the honesty artists compromise, or the story of him and his late cousin, Saba is honest to himself, first and foremost.

It’s not all a personal affair, however. Keeping pace with the generation’s need to rage and mosh, “LIFE”, is a short, intense song about life in the crosshairs. Whether it be street beef, institutional prejudice or being in the wrong place at the wrong time, “LIFE” fills you up with so much energy to fight back you’ll be surprised that you ever thought you could disappear in the first place.

What effect does CARE FOR ME leave you with? On the penultimate song PROM / KING, Saba talks about the start of the friendship between he and his cousin, how they came up together, and how he learned he’d passed. Saba tells you this story with all clarity, and with all sincerity, all without tripping over his vocals, being redundant or losing focus. It makes you ask: how does anyone who has lost someone retread that story? And why? Remember the opening lines, and realize he’s told us why: “I got tired of running away, everyone leavin’, I write’em away.”

Saba is finding light at the end of the tunnel and gearing up to give us more. On the ultimate track, I believe speaking as his late-cousin, Saba closes with this: “I promise ya’ll I’m not a ghost, look there’s heaven all around me.” Saba’s not ready to disappear, and I don’t think he should.

PNTHN

PNTHN (Pantheon) is an 11-member hip-hop collective hailing from San Marcos, Texas. Admittedly, it being less than an hour away from the state’s capital, Austin, and the state university, UT Austin, I often overlook San Marcos as a city offering anything. Yet, San Marcos is also the origin of “the internet’s first boy band,” Brockhampton. Despite how ignorant I am about San Marcos, PNTHN is making, and riding their own wave.

The group’s most recent project, POTLUCK, is a short, six track EP, with each song featuring a different member of the group. The sound is distinctively Texas: deep, resounding bass kicks fill the tracks while ambient melodies float over them. The end result is an EP of smooth, underground hip-hop, which is perfect for Texas cruises. Each member of PNTHN is from Texas, and this facet of their identity is something they try to rep, but also try to not be boxed in by.

You see, this isn’t just another Texas rap group. If you generalize PNTHN as just another “lean sipping, women pimping, gangster” crew, you’d miss the entire point. To see them in concert is to see them use hip-hop to mosh and shake off the consumerism infecting hip-hop. To hear POTLUCK is to hear the EP they started in the studio but finished at home because they believe in their own DIY. Where PNTHN shines is in their energetic, and humble house party vibe.

Rolling 11-deep is no joke, and the group seems to remain egalitarian within itself. In a YouTube interview, one member said he was the self-proclaimed captain of the group, but he also admitted he has a hard time getting the others to agree. People say your vibe attracts your tribe, and PNTHN lives and breathes the motto come one come all. In this atmosphere, everyone can add their own flavor, and everyone works to incorporate it.

PNTHN makes music for their friends, and here in Texas, we wave at everyone.

J. Cole – “KOD”

J. Cole’s new mixtape KOD is a great ‘tape. Sonically, he achieves meshing jazz into hip-hop, but it sometimes skews towards 2015’s “To Pimp A Butterfly.” Lyrically, KOD finds Cole lucid, and he explores a variety of flows here: triplet, sing-song, rapid fire, and old-school. In my opinion, this showcase makes him, and KOD, a champion hybrid of old school and new school.

J cole is young enough to hop on the new sounds, and sound natural. Sure, we can argue whether or not it’s his original wave, but he can still maneuver how he wants and be followed as heading towards the “next big thing.”

His nod to the old-school is his conscious effort to refine his hip-hop skills, lyricism and delivery. On the final track, he boasts: “I’ll be around forever cause my skills is tip top, to any amateur niggas that wanna get rocked, just remember what I told you when your shit flop, in five years you gon be on love and hip hop.” Unfortunately, he is one of the few who shows evidence of perfecting their craft.

Hip-hop is a chimera: industry and culture. The history of hip-hop includes cyphers, performances in which rappers take turns performing after another in an endless stream, and battles. Each of these, cyphers and battles, forces the rapper to have exceptional dexterity, and it’s this measure rappers should be held to. Style and substance don’t always go hand in hand, and some rappers make you compromise more than others.

Not J Cole. He can probably never be accused of slacking on a track. He can probably be found guilty of being holier than thou. KOD continues the trend of exceptional lyricism, and it evolves by not being self-righteous. This is best shown on the track FRIENDS. Here he talks about the emotional problems amongst his friends and the dangerous combination of childhood trauma and drug addiction. Then he speaks on it. However, he’s not talking to everyone doing it, just the ones he knows “This ain’t no trial if you desire go higher please, but fuck that now I’m older I love you cause you my friend, without the drugs I want you to be comfortable in your skin…and I done seen the combo take niggas off the deep end.” On the track before this he talks about witnessing his mother live with alcoholism. We understand that he simply doesn’t want to lose someone else to their demons.

I can’t get over how lucid KOD is. He’s not hyperactive or stretching truths. It’s a composed affair, offering glimpses into what is weighing on J Cole’s mind. He’s a rapper, chasing paper; a prophet, warning you of what’s to come; a peer, giving you music to ride to; J Cole, learning what he can change and what he has to live with.