Kanye West may be the most polarizing artist in music, not only today, but of all time. In that same breath, when Kanye West eventually decides to retire from music, he likely may go down as the best rapper of all-time and perhaps even the best musician of all time. One thing that makes Kanye so great, is not only his ability to consistently put together quality albums, with literally every attempt, but his constant dedication to artistry. While many great artists have no problem sticking to conventional song structure, shying away from controversial lyrics and topics, making songs with broad appeal that will get plenty of radio play, and putting a lot of worry into publicity and their image, Kanye West does none of the above. This is Kanye West’s blessing and his curse. On one hand it plays a role in making him one of the most widely disliked characters in American culture, yet on the other hand, it makes Mr. West a unique boundary pushing visionary and a musical genius. Everything Kanye West says about himself is not only true, but at times, it’s arguably modest. The 21 Grammys, the critical acclaim, the countless number of classic albums, the role he has played in shaping rap, his memorable live performances, it all speaks for itself. Kanye West is the best thing to happen to music since The College Dropout released in 2004, and his new album The Life of Pablo, West’s seventh solo LP, is yet another example of why there is no other artist even close to Kanye West.
In the last few years, musicians have gotten progressively more – – well, progressive. Artists that were pop-radio mainstays have started to stray from stringy, by-the-book singles in pursuit of their more Warhol-esque artistic endeavors. We had Beyonce’s, Beyonce project in 2013 which stopped the usual catering to radio standards and now we get ANTI, Rihanna’s attribution to this rapidly diversifying landscape we find ourself wandering in. When compared to her usual fare of songs, ANTI finds itself occupying an entirely different genre of sounds. Looking at its usual, hi-bar, electronic and techno elements on her last few projects that were practically commissioned to take the spot at the top of the charts, it is like day and night. Although, this does seem to make sense, as the more recent players to have emerged onto the radar are changing the sound of popularity.
Rather than similarity and relying on tired formulas, musicians are finally starting to rely on their own artistic interests, for better or for worse, when it comes to laboring over their craft. Here, I would have to say, for the most part, ANTI’s adventurous exploratory spirit pays off much more than it disappoints. Stylistically, the project ventures coast to coast and decade to decade posting sounds of past, present and future equally on display. Sounds are either stripped down or left far behind and tampered with only to resurface as distortions of their former selves. This is verified by the static-laden drums of album opener, ‘Consideration’. It is simplistic and is the perfect way to open the project, it is her inner-phoenix ejecting from the ashes the music industry has buried her in over the years. Her proclamation of doing things her own way and her fairytale references accompany this depiction of a new musical journey.
After the opening, Rihanna reminisces on past loves and her evident attraction to “bad boys”. On, ‘Kiss It Better’ she longs to rekindle a lost relationship over an Aerosmith-era guitar piece that drives its chorus into a lullaby. Then Boi-1da, ventures into more modern territory with an upbeat radio-friendly instrumental (possibly the only one on the project) that features Drake and Rihanna going back and forth about what I would assume is a fictional relationship and the struggles of opposition. This is followed by a much edgier, ‘Desperado’ that takes after more recent radio fare, think Halsey. It occupies the dark headspace of being truly alone and even worse, feeling alone even when someone is in your presence. Experimentation is most duely noted on Rihanna’s collaboration with one of the headmasters of experimental hip-hop today, Travis Scott. The deep lo-fi bass hits and screechy synths put somewhere we have never really heard Rihanna before.
You know your appeal is something else when you get a persona like DJ Mustard to produce his most interesting and complex production to date. The lofi bass of ‘Needed Me’ is intoxicating when combined with Rihanna remorselessly verifying, “Didn’t you know I was a savage?” It becomes apparent that sexuality is a vice that Rihanna clutches closely. She flips from reminiscing about her longing to pointing out that her men need her just as much and it sounds as certain as it should, given the rest of the album’s subject matter. She sounds reinvigorated with the sound of a little less self doubt. A bit of a falter shows itself by way of the nearly 7-minute ‘Same ‘Ol Mistakes’. Its distant vocals and reimagining of Tame Impala are drawn out past their intrigue and start to sound tired by the four minute mark.
The album comes back together in a more natural sense by the end. It starts to rely more on Rihanna’s voice which is better than ever. A more sombering piano graces Rihanna’s voice on ‘Close To You’, as though the song occupies a church during a morning mass. Her sexuality gives way to a much more neglected emotion, love. Her vocal flutters and tone fluctuations illuminate the mastery she has over her voice and it becomes the most heartfelt and honest song on the project. From distortion to clarity and everywhere else in the middle, Rihanna’s ambition has never been more noticeable. No longer standing in the crowd she stood near the front of for the last decade. Instead, she is playing with a stronger hand of cards and laying them down in a sequence that develops some solid insight to Rihanna the person rather than Rihanna the pop-star.
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.
For many it’s easy to hate on Macklemore, even if not for good reason. Whether it’s because of his text apology to Kendrick Lamar for winning the “Best Rap Album” Grammy, that came off cheesy to many when Macklemore made the private messages public on social media, or whether it’s because he is a rapper that makes (what many people consider) pop music, or even simply because he is a white rapper who doesn’t rap like Eminem raps, many find a way to dislike an artist who genuinely comes off as one of the nicest people in music. No matter the levels that his commercial and critical success has reached (or will continue to reach), rap fans andpublications alike have found a way to poke fun at Macklemore.
Now I’m not trying to be the hero that stops the bully from picking on the nice kid, but it’s time that those who haven’t yet jumped on the Macklemore & Ryan Lewis bandwagon hop aboard (something that I admittedly jumped on far too late). He may not come from a broken home, he may not have the lyrical fire of a J. Cole or Kendrick Lamar, and yes… he isn’t black, but he isn’t acting like it either. Macklemore has consistently stayed true to himself, making music from a perspective that is 100% his own. However being real isn’t enough, if an artist’s music isn’t relatable in one way or another, then what’s the point? Or if your music doesn’t have a message, then why make music at all? Fortunately for Macklemore though, his music and his new record especially is not only true to Macklemore but it carries a great message, that music fans across all different races and genres can relate to.
‘White Privilege II’ is another great record to tackle a huge social issue on a bigger platform than anyone before him has. On his last LP, The Heist, Macklemore broke ground with his record ‘Same Love’, rapping about same-sex relationships. Although Macklemore himself is not gay, and in fact is a new father to a baby girl with his wife Tricia Davis, he spoke from his own perspective, a straight person who supports equality and with loved ones who are gay. Even though it wasn’t “his fight to fight”, Macklemore spoke up for equality instead of sitting on the sidelines.
Macklemore takes a same approach as in ‘Same Love’ with his new record ‘White Privilege II’, dedicating nearly 9-minutes to tackle issues of race. Like in ‘Same Love’, this one isn’t Macklemore’s fight to fight, but as Jamila Woods sings in the new track, “silence is a luxury.” Music aside, if you ask many different people “what can white people do to help the Black Lives Matter movement”, they will tell you first to be aware of white privilege. And that is just what Macklemore does throughout the entire record.
In his opening verse, Macklemore vividly tells a story of when he joined the protests and march in support of Michael Brown, where a police officer )(Officer Darren Wilson) was not indicted for the death of another unarmed black man. Immediately Macklemore acknowledges the uncomfortable situation one finds themself in when supporting a cause that they aren’t directly part of. “In my head like, ‘Is this awkward, should I even be here marching?’ Thinking if they can’t, how can I breathe”?, Macklemore raps.
In the second verse, Macklemore aggressively battles the voices and demons inside him, for stealing from black culture. A common critique of many white artists who cross over into black genres, whether it’s Macklemore, Iggy Azalea, Elvis, Justin Timberlake (pretty much anyone J. Cole mentions in his track ‘Fire Squad’), Macklemore raps “You’ve taken the drums and the accent you rapped in. You’re branded hip-hop, it’s so fascist and backwards.” Throughout the verse, Macklemore shows that he is his biggest critic, that he isn’t immune to the blogs and tweets and ‘Fire Squads’ of the world. Although Macklemore’s inner thoughts are far too hard on himself, the humility he shows is remarkable and the overwhelming amount of “white guilt” (for lack of better words) he shows is almost depressing.
In his third verse, Macklemore switches from the voice of his inner demons to the voice of his fans that just don’t get it. The first half of the verse starts out positive, where a mother of two approaches Macklemore and commends him on the positivity and social awareness of his music. Soon after, the mom’s inner racist comes out, labeling rap music as nothing but “guns, drugs and hos”, and then speaking on the protests she says “if a cop pulls you over, it’s your fault if you run.” After the verse ends, the track transitions into a power montage of racist sound bites of people denying their white privilege.
Perhaps the most powerful verse of the record, Macklemore builds off the verses prior to come to an eventual realization of his role in our modern day civil rights movement:
“I can book a whole tour, sell out the tickets,
Rap entrepreneur, built his own business.
If I’m only in this for my own self-interest, not the culture that gave me a voice to begin with,
Then this isn’t authentic, it is just a gimmick.
The DIY underdog, so independent,
But the one thing the American dream fails to mention,
Is I was many steps ahead to begin with.”
Fully acknowledging his white privilege, being many steps ahead of the game because of the color of his skin, Macklemore continues to rap “my success is the product of the same system that let off Darren Wilson”, and then ending the fourth and final verse by repeating the lines, “we take all we want from black culture, but will we show up for black lives.”
‘White Privilege II’ perhaps isn’t just the best Macklemore record to date, but it is also his realist. Beautifully articulating what it’s like to be white person in 2016 who is conscious of their white privilege, and someone who wants to support causes which they otherwise could easily ignore, Macklemore again proves that he is a rapper with substance far beyond the popular fun tracks like ‘Downtown’ and ‘Thrift Shop’. It will be interesting to see what J. Cole says about this one…
“You gotta change too.” These are the words that find themselves at the forefront of Kanye West’s cohort Allan Kingdom’s, Northern Lights project, even before the ‘Intro’. And change he does. This project is loaded with vibey vocalization and production to the point where each track has Kingdom wearing a different hat. From being trapped in his feelings with sentiment to transferring a high level of funky confidence through sound waves show that Kingdom isn’t letting anyone hold him back, least of all himself. It takes both that high level of confidence and an even higher level of originality to make it as an artist in an age where everyone with a computer and a pulse thinks they have a shot.
The originality is what makes Northern Lights, perhaps the most exciting and promising release of 2016 so far. Simply put, very few artists are as hard as Kingdom to pinpoint. Song after song I found myself wondering where he would tether ideas together and how they would sound. In the end, he really didn’t; and it didn’t matter. His vocals and delivery style are likely unlike any other artist you’ve listened too. His style is well realized here by his collaborators who are lending a hand all over this project. Executively produced by Plain Pat and featuring the creative minds of Jared Evan and long-time hometown collaborator, Ryan Olsen.
Heavy synth elements travel a path established by artists like Kid Cudi and Future yet the rest of the album is drowning in classic and experimental elements that draw influence from Chance The Rapper and aspects of Kanye West’s entire catalog. The weightlessness of distant piano keys is introduced to trappy hi-hats and chest collapsing bass all combine to amazing effect on ‘Fables’. He transitions from heartfelt to aggressive when he hits listeners with bars about the oppression of originality placed on artists in ‘Monkey See’.
Kingdom uses poetic rhetoric to keep his thoughts in the form of meaningful sentences that consistently vary in cadence and flow, making each song its own. Tracks like ‘Monkey See’ and ‘Interruption’ hit a rhythm that chops like an onion on Top Chef while songs like the title track and ‘Disconnect’ skip smoothly as though his words are a stone being cast over a calm lake. Those metaphors I just used help show how hard it is to predict Kingdom’s versatility and it is just that, that gives me hope for where he can take his sound.
His autotuned croons of love on ‘I Feel Ya’ take a backseat to his more forward and mobile depictions of life at the moment. But, there is no doubting the talent and fearlessness that is contained within the man behind this project. Some may argue that his lane-switching from style to style screams a longing for finding himself but I would argue that this project shows a Kingdom who has almost fully come into his own. Rather than uncertainty, his experiment alludes to a confidence and comfort that is entirely audible in the 13 tracks contained within the most interesting project of the year so far.
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.
Justin Bieber was thrust into fame at a young age and almost immediately became the poster-boy for YouTube discovered stardom. Clearly, no one taught him how to handle his jet-like propulsion into the spotlight of fame and let’s just say, mistakes were made. As it turned out, mistakes were also accompanied by pretty good music. Mega-hit, ‘Baby’ has long since had over a billion views on YouTube and ironically, the title of that song is not far removed from the descriptions many people have placed on him in the last half-decade. It seemed as though Bugatti Biebz would never escape the sonic purgatory that his music occupied, somewhere between Kidz Bop and early Justin Timberlake. Then he dropped a collection of perception-altering tracks with 2013’s, Journals.
Gone were the days of elementary infatuation songs and playground references. Bieber had started to link up with artists like R. Kelly, Lil Wayne and Future that carried with them more varied fan-bases and definitely helped open Bieber’s mind to creating more conceptual music. After a nearly two-year hiatus, while Bieber’s newest project, Purpose, isn’t necessarily a bursting through into adult-R&B conversations, it’s definitely another foot through the wall. Almost making his past musical endeavors a distant afterthought, this project focuses on repentance, change and love in a surprising and coherently adult way.
Much of this new direction is no doubt a symptom of collaboration efforts with Skrillex, Diplo and PooBear. Purpose, is an album that sonically seems concerned with weaving Bieber’s light R&B vocals between emotionally synthesized electronic dance music. It typically works too, although I don’t think Bieber comes across as earnestly as he intends. On album opener, ‘Mark My Words’ he starts things off by reaffirming his history and seemingly endless love for Selena Gomez. Bieber’s own voice is sampled in the background of the track and it sounds as though he is reaching for an all but lost love through his elevated falsetto.
How soon he asks us to forget about his past after just sinking in it himself. The second track, ‘I’ll Show You’ is a delicately-delivered ballad where Bieber writes off his own past as “nonsense”. He stresses the age old misconception that the pressure of fame are easy to deal with. It’s a story we have all heard before and his laments seem somewhat vague and confined to the outer layers rather than his deeper anxieties. The chorus fills the audible space with hi-hats and light which seems to be a common course for many of the project’s tracks to take. Verses pick apart the issues of his past and the choruses ring out as anthemic projections of his new direction.
After the first few tracks allow Bieber to get his vague apologies out to the omnipresent listener, rather than leaving the lyrical theme, they become more specifically targeted at love. His metaphors become the emotional void-fillers in his life on songs like ‘No Sense’ with Travis Scott where he compares his heart to a vacant house whenever the girl he’s with isn’t around. Immediately before this we get the slow-burn build of ‘No Pressure’ with Big Sean. The two artists adjust to indecisiveness over an acoustic guitar backed 90’s R&B instrumental where distant echoes of Ginuwine’s classic, ‘Differences’ can be heard. This two-step of mixed-emotions in these back to back tracks creates a consistent tone. Bieber just gets done telling the receiver of his affection that she can take her time and then says that it doesn’t make any sense for them to be apart because his life is meaningless without her.
The follow-up track, ‘The Feeling’ featuring Halsey emphasizes just how foreign true love is to a person who seemingly missed the last part of growing up due to his fame-induced life. He can’t recognize love, but he is aware of the fact that it eludes him. The picture starts to come together, forming a much more matured and aware person because of the fact that he is finally asking these questions about love rather than just taking things for face-value. He follows the formula of giving self-advice based on his new view of himself and asking for acceptance for the rest of the album. Verses build to highly-produced choruses that manage to never sound too commercial.
Looking back on Bieber’s journey through fame and the fact that it seemed to culminate to this album, I definitely think it serves it’s purpose of reinvention without ever fully occupying the depth of emotion he reaches for. It provides enough poppy-highs and soothing lows to satisfy any Belieber and is potentially grown enough to draw in fans that had him written off since the beginning. Though much the songwriting leaves something be desired this new Bieber is a more honest and compassionate Bieber, finally able to pull us along on the journey away from his misguided youth.
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 safe to say the one of modern indie music’s most consistent groups has been generous to music geeks and listeners this year. Beach House have always been this way, releasing albums on a basis that doesn’t force listeners to wait too long and which always delivers great reception and critical acclaim. The true triumph of this is how they stay consistent to their sound while changing it just slightly enough that they are unique in their own right. Not too long ago they came out with the incredible Depression Cherry, an album that showed a darker, more cerebral, and romantically distraught side of a band known to get lost in a fever dream of love. What separated that album from their other albums, particularly Teen Dream and Bloom, was how it showed the band coming down to earth and coming to terms with reality without losing their otherworldly aura. Yet less than two months after that release Beach House are back with another album Thank Your Lucky Stars, and while people would like to be quick to point out that it’s a companion piece or a series of b-sides and extra studio tracks from the Depression Cherry recording sessions, it’s actually a separate album in its own right. It also happens to be one that stands out very well in its own right throughout it’s nearly 41 minute span.