This past weekend’s sold-out, EDM-centric FVDED in the Park festival in Surrey, BC, Canada saw a capacity of 40,000 fans take in world class acts such as Travi$ Scott, Jack U, Bryson Tiller and Zedd.
FVDED in the Park sees the benefits of being removed from the Metro Vancouver area, but still among the beautiful city-scape of the close suburb Surrey. The festival is not an overnight festival and does not feature any campgrounds, modelled after similar EDM festivals that have found success with this model in recent years.
It’s an idea that seems to have hit home with a lot of music fans who are really interested in seeing their favourite artists, but might be turned off by the camping experience or high-costs associated with a camping ticket.
“To have a festival sell out both days in only its second year is an indication of appreciation of the strength and depth of the lineup, as well as the strong interest in an urban music festival event in our region,” says Alvaro Prol, co-founder of festival, owner Blueprint. With two sold out days, the Festival ends with a 2016 attendance of 40,000 – up 53.8% over the inaugural year event attendance of 26,000.
Although the festival was very EDM heavy, it saw an interesting intersection of all genres, with hip-hop representatives like D.R.A.M., GoldLink, and Travi$ Scott, and even R&B/Soul artists getting prime time on large stages with acts like Gallant and Bryson Tiller drawing big crowds among others. DJ sets from Metro Boomin, Kaytranada and DJ Mustard also were among the weekend’s highlights.
Still, headliners Jack U and Zedd were definitely the big draws and the closers, and absolutely stole the show with their immaculate stage sets and eclectic set-lists. The festival’s success and big crowds might spell good things for BC’s Festival market, as the province has been through it’s own ups and downs with cancelled festivals in the past.
If you would have asked my opinion on Vic Mensa a year ago, it wouldn’t have been positive. As a fan of his since Kids These Days, the youthful and musical Chicago rock/rap outfit that made incredible waves to establish the new Chicago sound that dominates the city now, the quality that drew myself and many others into Vic and his brand was his musicality. He had this ability to effortlessly rap with intricate flows and dynamic lyricism, backed by acoustic and jazzy beats and made an effort to standout amongst his generational contemporaries. Fast forward to his eventual departure from the band and the release of his breakout project INNANETAPE in 2013, and Vic not only found himself as one of rap’s most sought after free agents, but he also found himself in a lane to himself. The potential for crossover appeal to any genre seemed limitless, as the team of collaborators and producers on the tape were an eclectic and promising mix.
In the years between then and now, Vic has gone through a series of transformations and experimental journeys with his music. The whirlwind of events that included collaborating with Kanye West on multiple occasions and signing to JAY Z’s Roc Nation label should’ve produced promising results from Vic as a solo artist, but the truth is, it did the opposite. From a distance, it seemed like Vic found himself bending his sound and biting his sharp-tongue, ultimately dumbing down his material in the name of appealing to the masses and the current rap climate. His slick lyricism was reduced to songs that borrowed titles and motifs from internet memes, (the Skrillex produced ‘No Chill’ and the noisy Kanye collaboration ‘U Mad?’) and the production cues were a lot less inspired and catered more to a pop-rap sensibility. A sizeable chunk of his fans found themselves scratching their heads and feeling disconnected from the guy they initially championed, and as people began to connect the dots and formulate their own conclusions, the truth is, Vic was seen more as a product than a human being.
In his first project in almost three years, There’s Alot Going On is a project that doesn’t really try to revert back to his jazzier ways or even attempt to stand as an apology record. Instead, Vic finds a new sonic balance with the cold, sparse trap-flavoured beats courtesy of Papi Beatz, but lyrically divulges more about his personal life and his socio-political perspectives than ever before. These subjects range from Vic’s personal connections to current events like the Flint Water Crisis or the current epidemic of police brutality against African-Americans, while he also takes time to catch the listener up on his own personal struggles with anxiety, addiction, and depression.
The project opens with ‘Dynasty’, a track that is a frenzied and dizzying showcase featuring some of Vic’s hardest bars we’ve ever heard from him. A looped sample lays the groundwork for an introductory verse, all before a slow build and then a scorching drop into sliding 808s and punchy snares. This formula strikes gold on a few other occasions, especially with the previously released banger ‘Danger’ with an incredible vocal performance from Vic on the hook that is packed full on energy. The raps here aren’t all that impressive though, and the uninspired subliminal shots at Drake are guaranteed to induce an eye-roll or two. However, those moments of dissatisfaction with Vic and his rhymes are a rare sensation on this project, as most of this EP features master-class rapping with sentiments that are truly moving and stimulating.
’16 Shots’ is a militant, iron-hearted response to police and the institutional racism that currently infects the veins of the US government and law enforcement entities. It’s a brilliantly and passionately crafted ode to those young black lives lost, and sympathizes not only with their complexion, but with their families, with their pain, and with their rage. Specifically, the song makes reference to the murder of 17-year old Chicago youth Laquan McDonald, a black male who was ruthlessly shot 16 times by a cop standing three feet away. Laquan was armed only with a knife, and the rounds were emptied out in rapid succession in thirteen seconds. The hook borrows from an iconic hip-hop sample, and is almost designed to be chanted by crowds and protesters alike. It’s verses maintain an interesting balance of quasi-conscious bars while also remaining very violent and combative, a quality that effectively captures the reaction to such a shooting and others like it. The song is everything a socio-politically charged hip-hop song should be—captivating, truthful, and brim-filled with vigour.
Vic’s ability to enlighten the world around him is both commendable and powerful, but the EP’s most potent moment exists in the tape’s final track where he turns the spotlight inward. There’s Alot Going On sees Vic expound on the past couple years he’s had, candidly revealing his battles with depression and addiction. He spills his heart out, exposing all his vices and faults for what they are, whether it’s him taking the responsibility for failed relationships, naming all his vices from adder all to alcohol—it’s a frenzy of chronological moments designed to catch the listener up on what’s been going on between the ears of Vic. It’s a heart-wrenching and humanizing song that floats incredibly well atop Papi Beatz’s brick-hard drums and haunting chords that perfectly ties up this moment, and sets up the next one. It truly seems that “the new” Vic Mensa has really just returned to his old self with a new lease on life and a true sense of poise and purpose, and for someone who was worried a year ago about the future of Vic Mensa, it’s time to admit that this is by far his best work to date.
Yes, Anderson .Paak’s visibility undoubtedly skyrocketed after frequenting on a range of tracks from the latest Dr. Dre release, Compton. His performances served as acclamatory additions to everything he touched—his rasp gripping the funky-foundations of Dre’s signature bass-lines, and even his successful attempts to dabble in raps with poignant bars and butter-smooth flows. His real breakout, though, came in the form of his 2014 debut, Venice, an album that flew under the radar and really didn’t gain any traction in the mainstream music circus. It might not have been as cohesive or as intimate as most great debuts are, but it was still an excellent showcase of Anderson’s range and ability to make you feel, and make you dance. The record borrowed from modern textures and spat back out sounds that weren’t too far away from the Soundcloud landscape of the time, yet Anderson’s voice and unconventional writing style made the record standout enough to be memorable, and enjoyable.
This time, with the world watching, Anderson’s first swing at the ball is a meticulous, experimental, and confident release featuring some of the most feverish, suspenseful, and groovy funk tempos heard since Kendrick Lamar’s dissertation on West-coast rap and P-funk in To Pimp A Butterfly. Malibu is breezy and fearless with Anderson .Paak sharply synthesizing his new-school takes on old-school sonic muses, all with the help of his signature, one-of-a-kind vocal abilities. Unlike his debut, .Paak enlisted the help of many varied yet established producers to add to Malibu’s vision. More contemporary guys like Kaytranada and Dem Jointz provide their own signature futuristic bounces, and legends like DJ Khalil, Madlib, and 9th Wonder pull the record back down to Earth with familiar textures. It’s a much more energy driven, electric take on D’Angelo’s modern classic Voodoo, with .Paak pivoting from retrospective personal stories to the gritty emotional subtexts of sex, back around to his come-up stories in music—all while remaining cohesive and incessantly brilliant.
Anderson’s storytelling on this record is incredibly gripping and engaging. He’s privy to the fact that there’s a massive array of new listeners who view him as somewhat of an enigma, and yet he doesn’t play into this with being overtly revealing or fishing for any sense of empathy in an attempt to be relatable or intimate. In fact, the details of his past life are either being unfolded by way of his ability to explain stories as if you were catching up with an old friend, or are being used as high quality bars ending with a Anderson delivering them with a brazen scowl. On ‘The Waters’, Anderson even reflects on the lukewarm receptions of his first projects not by admitting defeat but by boldly stating “Volume one was too heavy for you frail niggas/So I got leaned like codeine and pills”. By never really allowing the details of his life to be up for interpretation, he’s naturally setting the record straightand conveying the only POV that matters about every situation he finds himself describing. Similarly, Anderson leans on his own personal experiences to illustrate the more macro images of racial and socio-political issues very matter-of-factly. On ‘The Season / Carry Me’, Anderson reflects on his own intimacies with lines like, “When I look at my tree, I see leaves missing/generations of harsh living and addiction”, while also providing social commentary, spitting, “Your mom’s in prison, your father need a new kidney/You family’s splitting, rivalries between siblings/If cash ain’t king it’s damn sure the incentive”. Achieving this balance, Anderson is able to be a compelling writer without solely existing in the frameworks of his own head.
Musically, Malibu is a riveting experiment in song structure and pseudo-improvisational progressions. Structurally, many songs borrow from tracks like ‘These Walls’ or ‘Institutionalized’ off of Kendrick’s last LP, with songs starting with one vocal idea or melody and then expanding and contracting over the next couple minutes as the perspectives or emotions of the story change. ‘Your Prime’, for instance, begins as a breathy and melodic piece, soothing and gently serenading for some minutes on end all before cascading into a drum-laden, explosive bounce. ‘Silicon Valley’ maybe offers the most interesting progression on the record, with .Paak riding the minimal foundation of a simple 808 and a sparse bass-line, all as it builds into this lush, horn-driven, stuttering beat journeying into more pathways of melody and jazz. It’s honestly a lot of influences jam-packed into one track, but it never seems encumbered with the various sounds at any point. The narrative of this record is equally as enthralling, with Anderson describing his experience of trying to love a typical, fake-tittied woman that might come from the Silicon Valley, at one point interrupting Anderson’s romantic monologue as they’re presumably knee-deep into foreplay with “Will you fuck me already?!”
With Malibu, Anderson .Paak has undoubtedly snatched the reigns of West-coast soul, and proven why his scratchy growl belongs to be ranked among the best of today. Enlisting lyrical beasts like The Game, Talib Kweli, Schoolboy Q, and Rapsody throughout the project, .Paak is able to offer Malibu as this unique hybrid between soul and hip-hop, a combination rarely visible in today’s climate. Anderson doesn’t necessarily need features to pull this off, though, as not only is his voice one-of-a-kind, but he’s also a sharply witted rapper with an innate sense of flow and confidence. As the cover art accurately suggests, Anderson .Paak has pieced together a brilliant sounding mosaic of influences new and old, creating a record serving as the perfect palette cleanser to start the new year. Malibu is Anderson’s bold entrance into the big leagues, and if he continues to innovate and be nothing short of himself, he’s going to be here a while.
All rap empires must come to an end. This truth might be that of a bitter pill to swallow for rap fans still clinging on to the spitting superheroes of yesterday, but it’s a cyclical motif that makes itself evident era by era. In 2016, Future not only finds himself at the top of the rap game, but he also finds himself at such a height where onlookers can’t help but clamour more frequently about his eventual demise. When will it no longer be cool to like Future? It might seem like a pessimistic view, but it’s truly just logical. Human nature and common sense work in tandem to tell us that when something blows up really fast, it runs the risk of expiring and evaporating from culture just as quickly.
In October of 2014, Future pivoted from verging on pop-stardom with a lukewarm debut and a failing relationship with beloved pop songstress Ciara to becoming a rap entity that embraced his flaws in both facets. If you had chose to write Future off based on his flat-footed, sing-songy debut, Honest, you now had to endure Future’s creative direction 180° in Monster, featuring obscure synth arrangements, deafening drum patterns, and monotonous, yet infectious hooks and verses from the same guy. Similarly, if you found yourself to be a critic of sorts re: Future’s personal life, you were gifted with Future not only using the savagery of his alleged infidelity as ammunition and inspiration in his raps, but you were also exposed to Future’s audacious move to emotionally mourn and retrospectively reflect in particular tracks about the same relationship he allegedly ruined. And, you had to admit you were moved by it.
Future went on to release poignant art and cultivate the entirety of hip-hop culture in 2015 with this groupie-fucking, lean-drinking, pill-popping savage image to the universe through a series of mixtape releases starting with the aforementioned Metro Boomin produced Monster, followed by the Zaytoven helmed Beast Mode and the DJ Esco tribute project of sorts, 56 Nights. Of course, Future’s year was punctuated by his stellar album release DS2, and then his victory lap with comrade and frequent collaborator Drake in What A Time To Be Alive. Once you really sit down and spell out all his releases and think about the impact each and every one of them have had, you realize that Future as launched himself on such a dominant run in releasing five projects all in the span of one year.
Not only does this effectively bend the supposed notion of over saturation in music and how too much quantity will only dilute your art, but it restored power to the random mixtape, and placed the final nail in the coffin to the traditional project-rollout. With such a dominant year now in the books for Future, the hardest part, of course, is remaining consistent. Future’s latest release and first offering of 2016, Purple Reign, does just that just by virtue of it being another batch of new Future music, but it fails to really offer any real ante-upping or innovation in the process.
However, with recent developments, the real issue at hand with Future’s music really has nothing to do specifically with his latest tape at all. Sitting down with the popular French video-interview channel Clique, Future explained to the host that the drug-abuse and lifestyle his entire career is based around is facetious and is really an act. As the interviewer prodded as to why he would rap about a lifestyle he doesn’t actually live, Future went on to explain, “Because I feel like that’s the number one thing everybody likes to talk about…It’s the number one seller.”
After watching this interview and pretending like this wasn’t a big deal, I honestly found that listening to Future’s sob-stories about falling down the wormholes of addiction and the pain that comes with it much less compelling. And how could I not? This is the same guy who was constantly chanting things like “Drownin’ in actavais, suicide” or “I’m an addict and I can’t even hide it”—bars that at one point were perceived as brave and transparent, but now are just convincing modes of applying this genius marketing scheme. In fact, Future’s breakout tape that thrusted him into being the supreme tastemaker in hip-hop was Monster, sporting incessant bars glorifying his drug-induced lifestyle and his absolute savagery. Yet, in the same interview with Clique, Future says the following: “When I did Monster, I was sober.”
So, in summary, not only is Future preying on the very real disease of addiction as inspiration for his ‘shtick’ and his entire marketing scheme, but he’s also admitted to this very fact, and is facing no repercussions or any dialogue at all from peers, gatekeepers, and most major publications.
This confirms a few things. One, it supports the very real truth that most music publications today carry themselves as a brand first before being a source of honest journalism. As Donald Glover (Childish Gambino) put it to Noisey writer Slava Patsuk regarding his infamous 1.6 rating from music giant Pitchfork, he said, “Pitchfork helped me a lot. There’s no way I can make something worse than that. It would be impossible. But I’m not worried about them because they’re a brand, and I didn’t fit their brand. If I worked for Pitchfork, I wouldn’t give myself a 9.0 either. They’re a brand; they sell tickets to a show they put on every year. They’re not going to give a 1.6 to someone who can be at their show and sell tickets.”
Of course, Pitchfork is also a publication that has reviewed 10 Future projects, and the lowest score they’ve given to a Future project is a 6.9 for his Streetz Calling mixtape released in 2011 (Side note: every Future project they’ve ever reviewed has gotten a higher score than Gambino’s magnum opus, Because the Internet. Hmm.) Sites that are constantly praising Future’s accomplishments and even embellishing his successes have now fallen completely silent following the revelation that Future’s music is based on lifestyle he does not live. Why? Because if they were to speak out, it would hurt their brand and their credibility. Why would they attempt to hold Future accountable if they’ve already established him as a huge part of their respective brands?
Complex, similarly, is constantly publishing pieces praising Future’s successes and specifically highlighting his incredible run in 2015. This piece in particular sees writer Justin Charity proclaiming Future as the best rapper alive, highlighting his raw vulnerability as Future’s greatest strength. But if Future’s narratives and stories told within his music are entirely fabricated, is that still being vulnerable? No. It’s the same thing as if Macklemore were to music about being this street dude or dealing drugs with incredible emotional contexts, and then admitting he doesn’t actually live that life at all. He’d get ripped apart for being disingenuous in seconds, not praised for being ‘vulnerable’ when he doesn’t actually live what he’s rapping.
Secondly, it poses a greater contradiction within the music industry about content and what is and isn’t “too far”. Tyler, The Creator has been banned from the United Kingdom and Australia as recently as last year, with the powers that be citing Tyler’s misogynistic and rape-glorifying lyrics he wrote six years ago when he was trying to be a creative 18-year old artist writing music from the perspective of psychopaths and serial killers. Tyler’s music of this nature did not incite or move his audience to participate or condone these acts in themselves, and Tyler hasn’t made music touching on these subjects in years.
Future, on the other hand, is very actively preying on and promoting a lifestyle that genuinely ruins lives and harms people, because, as he puts it himself, “It’s the number one seller”. Yet, when he steps out and says things like this acknowledging this hoax and this lifestyle that doesn’t really represent him, nobody in this culture wants to even bat an eyelash, let alone hold him accountable? Isn’t hip-hop supposed to be the realest and rawest genre of music? Since when did truth and honesty in music become irrelevant?
Of course, fabrication in music and especially hip-hop is not a new concept. But with the position Future holds within the culture right now, it’s hard to not be discouraged with this new context. Future’s music had always glorified drug use, but it was also always seen as safe under the circumstances that he was being real, and his transparency about his drug abuse is less of a glorification and more of just a reality. But it’s hard to be as invested in this character now that’s confirmed to be completely fictional. This is not a call to bring down all things Future. It’s simply a call to start a conversation that major music brands are apparently too cowardice to engage in. It’s easy for writers who sit behind their laptop screens to dismiss this or act like they’ve known this the whole time, but the truth is, they don’t brush shoulders with youth who are actually poisoning themselves and using Future’s music as inspiration and the bar for all things ‘lit’ or ‘cool’.
Not only are there mass amounts of Future fans who believe him, there’s also a large portion of youth who use his lyrics as social media captions and his songs as the soundtrack to their own lean-drinking and xan-poppin’ lifestyles, meaning that these same kids who used Future’s music as a medium to relate and aspire now have to comprehend that it’s all in the name of marketing. To bring it back to Future’s most recent output of music, his brand new mixtape Purple Reign is truly the first instance of Future treading water. Not only is it sonically monotonous, it’s thematically dry as ever with Future still pushing the same (and, fictional) character traits song after song after song. Sure, the music still slaps, but how long is that going to be enough?
It wasn’t too long ago when critics and consumers alike would collectively clamour and deliberate about Pusha T’s place in hip-hop as a solo artist. Admittedly, Pusha T definitely took a minute to find his footing following the Clipse’sdesultory demise, but today, he ranks a little higher in the hearts of those close to the culture. King Push is truly cemented as a modern rap legend due to his time spent rapping alongside his brother, but a more recent increase in fanfare and modern relevance is definitely due largely to his immaculate and influential debut album, My Name Is My Name. It was a record that piggybacked on the sparse, minimalist sonics from boss and collaborator Kanye West’s Yeezus record released just months before, but MNIMN was even more stripped down and bare, all in an effort to make Push’s cutthroat bars the forefront of each and every record. The result was a phenomenal album that had bite and range—records for the club, records for the street, and even reaches towards radio with the Breezy assisted ‘Sweet Serenade’ and the Ma$e emulating, Kelly Rowland collab ’Let Me Love You’. On his latest effort, though, there are no reaches or attempts at broadening musical dimensions. King Push: Darkest Before Dawn: The Prelude is not only Pusha T’s darkest album, it’s the King’s most merciless, invincible sounding record he’s ever crafted.
Push has always been able to stagger and swoon with his menacing imagery and truly unparalleled coke-references, but this time around he chooses to pair his always impeccable rhymes with a varied collection of dark, B-side records from A-list producers, whether that be legends like Timbaland, Q-Tip, or Puff, or even modern collaborators like Hudson Mohawke or Boi-1da. Regardless of whose shoulder he taps on, Pusha T finds his pocket regardless and maps his way out of these claustrophobic beats time and time again. On ‘Crutches, Crosses, Caskets’, he terrorizes over an off-kilter brass loop and buzzing bass line courtesy of Puff Daddy himself, running rampant lyrically about pulling the veil that offers the illusion of rappers really being rich and dignified. “I’m the L. Ron Hubbard of the cupboard”, he proclaims, all before the beat deflates and retreats. Retreating is evidently something Pusha T does not do a lot of on this record, though. Rarely is he unsure or even temporarily vulnerable—in fact, more often than not he’s scoffing at his peers and saying his piece about each and every chink in the armour of the culture. ‘M.F.T.R’ explores a similar ideology, as Pusha T and The-Dream continue to unravel the dysfunction and realities behind Cash Money Records and the troubled relationship between Birdman and Lil Wayne. There was a time when Pusha T would speak on these two subliminally and under-the-radar, but now given the recent developments in the YMCMB episodes, Push is exclaiming his displeasure as repeated “I-told-you-so’s”.
Pusha T does deviate from the hyper-flexing and egomaniacal content on occasion, with tracks like ‘Sunshine’ featuring Jill Scott and ‘M.P.A.’ being poignant examples. The former concludes the album and offers a rare, explicitly conscious side of Pusha T accounting for the perils and tribulations faced by his race as a whole. It’s an exceptionally beautiful song that bleeds into areas thematically that are typically foreign for Push, as rarely does he attempt to speak for anybody but himself. The latter is a songwith an abbreviation that spells out money, pussy, alcohol—dedicated to the three heaviest vices that plague a lifestyle like Pusha T’s. Enlisted are friends Kanye West, The-Dream, and A$AP Rocky who all add different vocal layers to the serene hook. The beat, though, might be the most interesting component, being that it is a collaborative effort between J.Cole and Kanye West. It’s musicality doesn’t necessarily reinvent the wheel, but it’s method of fusing current textures to deliver such a unique groove is admirable.
As always, though, Pusha T is most poignant and austere over the most looped, hollow beats. Album standout ‘Untouchable’ an eerie slapper pieced together by Timbaland. The first thing that jumps out is the larger than life Biggie sample, but the reversed piano chords that slowly buzz and pass while a string melody appears and vanishes on every other bar is brilliantly simplistic. Push again throws his darts at the Cash Money guys, with stabs like “Still wishing on a star / The last one to find out that Baby owns the cars” meant to surely bruise a couple egos from that camp. This breed of supreme confidence is evident from jump, as the Metro Boomin produced ‘Intro’ sees the album start with Push flaunting his ability to float over just about any beat with the sharp-tongued raps still intact. This truly seems to be his sole focus with this record, too—he’s either passing off hook duties to a friend, letting a sample speak, or repeating a phrase a couple times over and letting that do the work (see the Ab-Liva flanked ‘Got Em Covered’, or the Q-Tip produced ‘F.I.F.A’). Unlike his inaugural solo effort, he’s not trying tobe anything he’s not, or overtly ambitious in the slightest sense. Push is playing into his strengths and making his legendary collaborators convert to the dark side with him.
That sentiment stretches to the album’s narrative, too. It might sonically be his darkest delivery, but Pusha T is never vulnerable or even at-risk of the climate around him. Rather, he is absolutely revelling in the most twisted, gruesome details of his past, using his credibility as poker chips that the rest of the culture just doesn’t have. Very few rappers or artists in general are blessed with this level of conviction, as when Push says something, you don’t doubt him for a second. It’s the type of authentic fervour that allows this kingpin-story of his to check out at every instance, and ultimately allow him to standout from each and every other rapper associating themselves with such a lifestyle. The result is Pusha T coming across as the most credible, menacing rapper in the world right now, and with the constant re-inventive, self-challenging nature of Push and his seemingly familiar story, maybe it’s time we admit that Pusha T is the most technically sound MC breathing.
It seems as though the wait for new Frank Ocean music may finally be over.
Twitter user @Swxnky recently tweeted that he had a clip of the rumoured new Frank Ocean tune ‘White Ferarri’ that Montréal DJ and producer A-Trak had hinted towards earlier this month, but nothing really seperated him from any other Twitter-troll–that is, before he posted a snippet of the song itself.
The snippet in question can be found here, and is extremely short, but sounds identical to Frank Ocean. User Swxnky then went on to disclose more details about the alleged magazine, tease the ‘Nikes’ video reported on earlier this year, and then go on to say that Frank would be putting out an album within the next two weeks. Swxnky also went on to post a video of someone speaking in frame that sounds EXACTLY like Frank Ocean. @Swxnky is either the real deal, or an extremely talented, heartless troll. Screenshots of the tweets are below.
Among the many exceptional voices 2015 has introduced us to, Alessia Cara’s ranks pretty high on that list. We’re not playing favourites, but the 19-year old Canadian vocalist hasn’t given us much of a choice, as she’s owned the year after her inaugural single ‘Here’ impetuously exploded and continues to run laps around radio internationally. She has leaped from being the jewel in your YouTube subscription feed to not only being a household name, but a bona-fide pop powerhouse, and with her debut album Know-It-All, Alessia has validated her own artistry once again. Not only is Alessia Cara responsible for one of the most compelling singles of the year, she’s managed to release one of the most dynamic pop albums 2015 has seen, too.
In 2015, a large chunk of the most potent music curation and quality artistic output can be credited to the guys over at the Soulection camp—a collective of DJ’s, artists, and creatives alike that thrive on putting forth both compelling and infectious tracks for the listener embodied in whole original projects or re-interpretations of today’s favourites and yesterday’s classic’s alike. There is a strong chance that they’ve infected your Soundcloud rotation one way or another, and if they aren’t making you dance there, they’re doing it on their own Beats 1 Radio show on Apple Music or they’re in your city moving venues and clubs with their eclectic taste and aptitude for all things lit.
If there is a single artist affiliated with the constantly growing brand of Soulection that embodies them best, it’s 21-year old rapper GoldLink. Last year’s The God Complex made waves as his entry into the world of a cohesive project, and it didn’t disappoint. The DMV native earned himself mass amounts of critical acclaim, a growth spurt in his fans and followers, and a XXL Freshman Class look for 2015 all off the strength of one mixtape. That offering might seem minimal, but that tape offered enough flash and brilliance to warrant all of what he’s received. It’s sound was radiant and bouncy with tempos climbing track by track, as 808s slap and sit below warping house synths, all reinterpreted and redistributed in dozens of ways. Within that tape, we got peeks into GoldLink’s hyperactive mind and capabilities as a writer, getting personal on tracks but never too dark to piss on his dance-y parade. With his latest offering and his debut album through Soulection, And After That, We Didn’t Talk, GoldLink trades his schizophrenic thoughts in for a more studied outlook on the embers of a love lost, a linear narrative that flows through eleven tracks of romance, anguish, and excellence.
Still, And After That offers GoldLink’s signature blend of hip-hop and ethereal spawns of house music, but one of the most noticeable additions is his use of melody within these records. His ability to effortlessly transition in and out of a raw, moving pocket and pivot right back to rapping fluently with his unmistakable voice and flow results in most tracks here sounding like records—wholesomely crafted sonic moments from top to bottom that are able to tell powerful stories with conviction, and still be something to dance to. ‘Dance on Me’ is a perfect example of GoldLink’s ability to bob and weave between his own interpretation of R&B and straight spitting over the same groove. There’s something incredibly satisfying to the ear and just outright impressive about GoldLink’s eclecticism within his writing and song structure as he floats between several different genres while never impeding the album’s core concept and narrative. ‘Dark Skin Women’ is a spirited, funky twist that rings off early in the record, adding a dose of energy before the record mutates into a completely different vibe.
‘Late Night’ kicks off the second half of the record with assistance from Masego’s sugar sweet melodies with a hook that’s guaranteed to seep into your skull and have you singing it back for hours. GoldLink plays off Masego’s contributions to push the plot forward a bit with the woman in question. The relationship at hand begins to wither based off writing clues from Goldlink himself, but as the album plays on, and GoldLink utilizes his collaborators on this latter end of the album for added perspectives and textures on the story and the music. ‘Polarized’ with Demo Taped is a gliding, jazzy piece while budding talent Anderson .Paak plays guest on ‘Unique’ for a colourful cut that expounds on rare breeds of love. (“Is that your ass i’m holding?” could very well be my favourite line on this album.) Thematically, the interesting thing is GoldLink is never really telling you what’s happening, but he’s telling you how he feels about it. By virtue of his emotional compass, as you come the end of the record, you might not know what happened or how it happened, but you’ll know what it did to him.
The record ends with ‘See I Miss’, where the subject of the record seems the most distant. GoldLink uses the chorus to question, “Who knew, yeah/That I would even miss that bitch” over a soothing, jazz drum pattern and filtered keys creating a sonic environment not too distant from the sounds achieved on D’Angelo’s last album. The production on this album in it’s totality is absolutely stunning, as every producer involved really came with their best. Galimatias, Medasin, and Tom Misch are all credited with pitching into the album’s sounds, but Louie Lastic’s placements here end up resonating the most. Album single ‘Spectrum’ has an unreal groove sporting a Missy Elliott-sample paired with random barrages of Tagalog-dialogue, and is one of the only tracks where GoldLink is rapping all the way through with a non-stop flow straight out the toolbox of André 3000. With a knock like that, you can’t really blame him.
This is an album that is masterfully crafted from top to bottom, and is bravely experimental without deviating too far left from what we loved to hear from GoldLink in the first place. The most intriguing aspect of the record, though, is probably how he left it, as the last word you hear on the album is atop a familiar static-filled filter from the intro ‘After You Left’ and is simply “repeat”—as the first sound on the intro being that same static-filled filter beneath what sounds like a car-crash. It could be GoldLink’s way of conveying that he has not learned from these experiences, or maybe it’s a testament to the monotony of the headspace that existed through the album’s duration. Either way, you’re left to fetch whatever few details GoldLink’s dropped within one of the best records to release this year to try and piece together any tangible events of the story presented. It almost makes the unspoken just as important as the music itself, which is a fitting quality for a story that ultimately ends with, We Didn’t Talk.
It’s hard to nail down exactly where Raury is headed musically. His inaugural offering, 2014’s Indigo Child, stood as an artful project drawn with a muddied paintbrush creating pictures out of the fury, ambition, and hope that pairs with being an African-American youth by default. Raury’s music is unapologetically black, which may sound discernible but is clearly a controversial statement. Much of Raury’s criticism upon his introduction to music was that he was sonically amiable and geared to succeed as some sort of industry plant or synthetic pop machine, reaching at the fact that he’s a black kid from Stone Mountain, GA, but he dresses like he’s a hippie, caucasian dude with a guitar posted up at your nearest boardwalk. In other words, white music critics were complaining about how Raury’s music was too easy for white people to like.
It’s official: In the year 2015, the concept of the mixtape is officially dead. The entire EP/LP/mixtape distinction has become so goddamn ambiguous and loosely attributed to a vast amount of projects to the point of no return, and with the release of their collaborative “mixtape” that was sold on iTunes and featured on streaming services, hip-hop megastars Future and Drake have provided the final nail in the coffin as they are projected to sell 500,000 copies of What A Time To Be Alive in their first week. Yes, their “mixtape” just sold more copies in it’s first week than Kanye and Jay Z’s polished, much publicized, artful collaboration “album”, Watch The Throne. Ye and Hov had a-list guests such as Beyoncé and Frank Ocean, and had a legion of the world’s greatest producers at hand to pitch in. They also had Ricardo Tisci, the creative director for Givenchy, design the album’s luxe and innovative art and packaging. Future and Drake, on the other hand, threw together eleven tracks in six days with beats almost entirely from Metro Boomin. Also, the cover art for the project is literally a cropped Shutterstock image.
No, we’re not making that up. But the truth is, this is the first time in hip-hop history that the two undisputed hottest rappers of the time have joined forces to materialize a project in the middle of both of their own respective hot-streaks. Future is coming off a legendary run with some of the most high-octane mixtapes we’ve ever heard and an incredible album effort just months ago with DS2. In the red corner, Drake is coming off his own scorching mixtape and highly-successful mini-tour with If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late—a project that many critics and fans credit with being the most potent, dense, and interesting offering Drizzy has ever released. Although the accolades were seemingly already written with just the announcement of the project, the real question remains: What A Time To Be Alive might have been a commercial cash-grab and a creative lay-up, but is it good?
The first thing you hear as you press play on What A Time is not Drake nor Future. Instead, it’sa fade-in of one of the most distinct producer tags of 2015—Young Thug incoherently saying, “Metro Boomin’ want some mo’, n*gga” as these cheap, FL Studio synths begin to buzz in a trance, introducing the abrasive introduction, ‘Digital Dash’. Before you know it, the beat unexpectedly drops and Future is running with the baton. He mumbles and stumbles with a familiar flow before building his verse into a more articulate result, one that is reflective and sobering, ironically about his vices and drug use. “When I was sleepin’ on the floor you shoulda seen how they treat me/I pour the Actavis and pop pills so I can fight the demons” he says, all before Drake cuts in to add his own grit and structure. It’s right off the rip that you realize Drake might be adding his own flavours, but all in all, he’s playing Future’s game. With context, you will realize that this tape was recorded in a matter of days in Atlanta, over beats by Future’s in-house producers. There’s one 40 beat that serves as the intro. There’s absolutely no sense of Toronto within this project. Instead, Drake uses his bars all over this tape to exercise escapism, and adapt to his surroundings.
Every song on this tape screams Atlanta. There is barely any unorthodox moments, curveballs or occasions that will have you impressed by innovation. Metro is doin’ Metro. Southside is doin’ Southside. Even 40 does 40. Drake and Future do little to step out of their respective boxes too, but they do flaunt their particular artistic quirks from time to time. Slapper ‘Jumpman’ sees the return of Drake’s ‘6 Man’ flow and as much as it’s a stylistic lay-up, the fact is, it’s a sonic slam dunk. Standout “Diamonds Dancing” features Future crooning back to his Honest days, serving as a traditional ballad all until Aubrey comes in and breaks down the song with an almost Take Care-era demeanour. As the drums fade out, Drake is left with a simple chord progression as he moans about a woman that left him to dry as he gets his chance to air her out on the track. “Ungrateful,” he croaks in an almost drunken state, all before my personal favourite: “Your momma be ashamed of you”.
The flows can catch you off guard, though. Future’s slow, leaned out flow is a great juxtaposition next to Drake’s hyperactive delivery on ‘I’m the Plug’, and even on ‘Live From the Gutter’, Drake morphs the track with a flow sounding like just about any other southern rapper, but he beats them at their own game. It might sound unfair, but Drake has the charisma to say what anyone else can say better than they could. Throughout all the controversy of ghost-writers lately and regardless of whether or not Drake gets some help with writing, the truth still stands: It’s not what you say, but how you say it, and Drake will have you beat every single time. Still, Drake is not even the most prominent rapper on this tape. This is definitely more of a welcome addition to Future’s project-streak than Drake’s. As previously mentioned, this project was conceived in Future’s home plate and done at Future’s work pace, and it definitely sounds like it. Future uses his home-court advantage as leverage and burns through the tape with every bar sounding natural and effortless, all while Drizzy rides shotgun.
Drake uses the album’s outro, ’30 for 30 Freestyle’ as his real message to the outside world. He conversationally spits about handling the Meek drama like a champ, still being on top despite actual conspiracies from industry powers to dethrone him, and reflecting through his life and his growth as a person—all over top of gentle, elegant keys with a kick pounding like a heartbeat, courtesy of none other than 40. It’s here where Drake comes down from the escapism of being in Atlanta and playing by Future’s rules for a short amount of time, all while he sobers up on his sonic journey back to the sounds of Toronto. It was during this final piece of the project that I saw What A Time To Be Alive’s true value—not as a polished, cohesive piece of art, but as a gritty, fast-paced journey through the spoils, vices and emotions that a weekend in Atlanta can evoke. So, use this wisely as the current soundtrack to a night on the town, or as music to drive through the city to, but don’t mistake this project for being something that will stand the test of time and be a sonic culture-shift for hip-hop. It will probably have a legacy based off the numbers and the sheer details surrounding the mixtape, and truth be told, this project is definitely more of a moment than a timeless addition in Future and Drake’s respective careers. However, as a soundtrack of right now, what else could you ask for?
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