An Outsider’s Ode to Hip Hop – Part 2

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Part 1 is here

Nas is indisputably one of the greatest MCs to ever grace the mic, as hip hop as rappers go. From what is widely considered one of, if not the best rap album ever, the gritty, streetwise Illmatic, up to the grown-man, nuanced, elegant hip hop on Life is Good, his discography is a play-by-play of the evolution of the genre through the eyes of one of its finest.

When he declared, then, that his beloved form of expression was “dead” halfway through his career on Hip Hop is Dead, then, the outburst of conversation was understandable. Fast forward 10 years, and Nas declares himself a proper fan of Future, the divisive rapper scores of hip hop heads declared as antithetical to “real hip hop.” He’d go on to explain his history with the genre on the watershed DJ Khaled track, Hip Hop with Scarface.

Continue reading “An Outsider’s Ode to Hip Hop – Part 2”

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An Outsider’s Ode to Hip Hop – Part 2

The 59th Annual GRAMMYs – A Rundown of the Nominees

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The GRAMMYs, till date, remains one of the biggest musical events of the year (even though it has its fair share of detractors) making it a good time to take stock of the biggest artists and music of the past year. With that in mind, we’re doing a quick rundown of the major nominees and their chances to take home that golden gramophone.

Continue reading “The 59th Annual GRAMMYs – A Rundown of the Nominees”

The 59th Annual GRAMMYs – A Rundown of the Nominees

Favourite Albums of 2016 – #10 to #6

#10. When You Walk A Long Distance You Are Tired by Mothers

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Rare is the album that leaves you slack-jawed, stunned from the very first beginning, the music possessing the sort of beauty that entrances you like a pristine pool of water. Each auditory component plays impeccably, the plucked strings of the guitar singing its own melancholy song, the violin stirring parts of your being you never knew music could, the restrained percussion uplifting the other parts of the music, but never overwhelming it. And then there’s lead vocalist Kristine Leschper’s hauntingly ethereal singing, each note striking you with incredible clarity, her earnest pleas and ruminations ringing true in every syllable.  Each song is a long, slow trek through the depths of emotion, with each section occupying its own niche, interplaying, but never overruling each other. When You Walk A Long Distance You Are Tired is a debut unlike any other in recent times. It’s confident in its musicality, gorgeous in its instrumentation, and yet vulnerable in its humanity. This is more than an album; it’s a testament to the sheer might of beautifully constructed music.

Listen to: Too Small for Eyes, Nesting Behaviour 

#9. Black America Again by Common

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Common has been at the forefront of ‘conscious’ hip-hop for a long time now – from the classic that was Resurrection, Com has tackled issues relevant to the struggles of the common man, with razor-sharp lyrical analyses of race, money, faith and love. Black America Again, then, is a culmination of Common’s position as an activist Black rapper in the sociopolitical climate of present-day America. Over the years, he’s also matured as a rapper, bringing more nuance to his lyrics, as well as at crafting a focused album – this shows most prominently on this album. Each track is an incisive examination of a facet of race and humanity with the wisdom of a rap elder, while existing within the larger context of the album. There is a warmth to Com’s observations, reassuring his people of their power, and driving them to fight the forces trying to keep them down. The production reflects this sagacity – it’s contemporary and confident, while reminding the listener of their roots. This is a celebration of Black America in a musical era that is countering the miasma of the world around them, delivered by one of the most compelling voices in hip-hop.

Listen to: Home, The Day Women Took Over

#8. The Life of Pablo by Kanye West

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The Life of Pablo is the rawest manifestation of Kanye’s abstraction. It is his worst, and his best, grating each other and swirling in terrible splendour in turns. This projects cements the man’s status as the most fascinating musician alive; the opposite of manufactured marketing, and an almost solitary spark of exciting conversation in music. It brings together every such part of Kanye, and presents it to the listener with no pretense. Ye is music’s foremost purveyor of disarming honesty. He openly shares his failings, his boasts an enforced foil to his grapplings with the self.

The soundscape on TLOP is the beauty in the insanity here; it brims with the diversity and magnificence Kanye perfected on MBDTF. In its intricacies, TLOP balances aggression with harmony; tempers stadium sounds with gorgeous melodies. Much like the man himself, the music is restless and dynamic, pausing only to reveal the scale of Ye’s vision in a few stunning minutes. As a wholem The Life of Pablo is unadulterated auditory insanity. It’s Kanye off his Lexapro, yet still somehow in control. This might not be his ‘best’ album, but it’s just as crucial to his mythology as his other work.

Listen to: Ultralight Beam, Real Friends

#7. You Want it Darker by Leonard Cohen

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It’s impossible to place You Want it Darker outside the context of the legend’s death; the half-smiling acceptance of his mortality is evident throughout the album, a fact that he’s acknowledged and accepted as being true of his songwriting. He has no qualms deconstructing man’s end, tinged with his wry wit, yet it is not without sadness. His voice is reflective of this mood – his full timbre deadpanning his thoughts, introspective lyricism grappling with universal questions of life, love and death. The somber production – dramatic organs and keys, menacing strings, haunting orchestral voices and subdued percussion –  rests in the background, setting the atmosphere appropriately dark.

As a whole, You Want it Darker is an ode to the crescendo of an incredible man’s life; it’s impeccably crafted, but his time in this world weighs heavily on its heart. It’s a gospel-like final presentation of a man who’s spent his life grappling with the questions contained within, with answers that serve as a bittersweet Hallelujah to the great equalizer. And we are all better for the poetry he’s give us.

Listen to: You Want It Darker, If I Didn’t Have Your Love 

 #6. Coloring Book by Chance the Rapper

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In a rather dark year, some records sought to act as a source of thoughtful joy, a defiant proclamation of optimism – Coloring Book was, perhaps, the brightest of such lights. Chance is at a peak, both in his personal and professional life. He’s become a family man with the birth of his daughter, is a critically lauded musician with a dedicated, involved fanbase, and he’s derived clear contentment from his faith. And that theme of spirituality, buoyed by humane joys, forms the heart and soul of this album. This is quite possibly the most gospel album a hip-hop artist – including Kanye – has ever made. Besides the explicit references to God and the divine, there is a reaffirmation of themes beyond the typical materialism of rap; family, friendship, and the power of music itself. Chance’s malleable vocals are often jubilant, and hopeful even when nostalgic. The production – mostly courtesy of The Social Experiment –  is chock-full of live instrumentation and choir vocals, uplifting and stirring. In drawing from his inspiring happiness, Chano has passed on that optimism to his listeners, in music that impresses on you the divinity in humanity. And in a year such as this one, that felt incredibly important.

Listen to: All We Got, Angels

Favourite Albums of 2016 – #10 to #6

Favourite Albums of 2015 – #13 to #11

 

#13. Rodeo – Travis Scott

 

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Travis Scott is not a good rapper in the traditional sense. Let’s get that out of the way. But in 2015’s hip-hop scene, that doesn’t matter as much. What does matter is a rapper’s ‘sound’, his ear for production and skill in curating talent. And Travis Scott is exceptional on all these counts; his sound being one of apparent contradiction. The sounds of Rodeo are intoxicant-laden, yet have clarity. The production is heavy, but interspersed with subtle details, Travis’ vocals are slurred but have melody and rhythm, and the features overflow yet stick to the grander ideas. This album is less about Travis and more about the greater pool of musicians he helps bring together, but with him as the conductor, orchestrating the mass into forms that are beyond satisfying. And Rodeo is all the better for it.

Listen to: 3500, Maria I’m Drunk, 90210

#12. Surf – Donnie Trumpet and the Social Experiment

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Chance the Rapper may be the most recognizable voice on Surf, but the project is credited to Donnie Trumpet and his Social Experiment band for the simple reason that the soundscape they provide is truly the backbone of this album. Consequently, it serves as a diverse palette of musical influences and gorgeous sonic textures, bouncing between funk, jazz, blues, hip-hop and more; drawing on, and building upon their hometown of Chicago’s rich musical traditions. Besides Chano, the guest features are meticulously chosen, and almost all of them bring their A-game, which is particularly gratifying considering the relatively unconventional production. This LP represents the pinnacle of a 20th century-influenced revitalization of hip-hop. Surf is warm, playful, thoughtful, and one hell of an album.

Listen to: Slip Slide, Wanna Be Cool, Familiar

#11. Elaenia – Floating Points

One word: ethereal. Sam Shepherd, musical auteur/neuroscientist has, with Elaenia, produced a body of work that is precise in its purpose: but that purpose is that the music remain utterly amorphous. There is little to be said for form in this album. Sound bytes float in and out of the atmosphere, sonic elements glitch and apparate at seemingly random points, and yet the entirety of this album crescendoes towards an almost supernatural conclusion. It would be a discredit to the music here to pin it to a genre, and therein lies its beauty. The listener should not seek to listen to Elaenia as much as immerse oneself in its sparse, stark magnificence. Let the nerves of this piece bind themselves around your spine, and send chills running up it.

Listen to: Silhouettes(I,II and III), Thin Air

Favourite Albums of 2015 – #13 to #11