Five Songs for the Weekend – VIII

A weekly series where we pick 5 songs that we think you’d like to listen to over the weekend

#1. Sober – Lorde

The theme of Melodrama is pretty clear now – post the fame of Pure Heroin, Lorde was thrust into a world she didn’t recognize, and it took a toll on her. Sober continues the brutally honest examinations of modern hedonism, the often-contradictory dichotomy of the party culture and alcohol binges, over a pulsating beat. It’s going to be intriguing to see how it all comes together on the album, which is just a week away.

#2. That Far – 6LACK

After blowing up off the back of some great singles, most notably, Problems, and an album, it seems like 6LACK doesn’t intend to take his foot off the accelerator. Keeping to his hazy production and vocals, 6LACK thematically focuses up. Looking firmly to the future while dismissing his distractions, he makes it known that his only purpose is success.

#3. Not Enough ft. THEY. – Lido

There aren’t enough upbeat tracks that are a fuck-you to an ex. Vibrant and fun, with lots of great little harmonies, Lido and THEY. come together for a song that will be a lot of fun to sing along to – possibly a little drunk.

#4. Rain Come Down – Vince Staples

Few rappers can do truly dark, gritty music like Vince Staples can. With a beat that’s haunting and menacing despite its bounce, Vince delivers his trademark descriptive bars, unflinchingly narrating the ruthlessness of the streets. Ty Dolla $ign delivers a great hook, his gravelly singing a perfect foil to Vince’s monotone. Big Fish is shaping up very well.

#5. Someone to You – BANNERS

A great pop-rock song is always welcome. With an absolute anthem of a hook and rousing production, BANNERS is clearly targetting the same audience as Imagine Dragons and Bastille, and doing a pretty good job of it. Watch out for them

Five Songs for the Weekend – VIII

FIVE SONGS FOR THE WEEKEND – VII

A weekly series where we pick 5 songs that we think you’d like to listen to over the weekend

#1. I Promise – Radiohead

Listening to an album for the first time and realizing it will end up being one of your favourites is an astonishingly wonderful feeling. That’s what I felt with OK Computer, and to relive that wave of emotions with I Promise, a track tellingly recorded between The Bends and OKC is something a fan usually only dreams of experiencing. With melancholy strummed guitars and marching percussion, Thom brings us back to the delicate and intimate promises of a relationship in danger of tearing apart. It’s an emotional, beautiful track. And it’s quintessentially Radiohead.

#2. Perfect Places – Lorde

Pounding kicks open the track, followed immediately by the existential lyric  “Every night I live and die;”  akin to Green Light, this is a complex song, juxtaposing a dance-y electronic instrumental with exploratory lyrics. Tackling the escapist party culture of alcohol and casual sex with a nuance that acknowledges both the desire for mindless euphoria, as well as the resultant ennui, Lorde once again captures the seemingly-contradictory dichotomy of our youth like few artists do.

#3. Run – Foo Fighters

Given how long the Foo Fighters have been around, there isn’t much in the way of surprises they can throw at you – but that doesn’t mean they can’t make some damn good music their own way. Run begins with Dave’s voice – melodic, yet tinged with a growl bubbling underneath – before launching into classic Foo; the aggressively infectious guitar riffs, driving drums and snarling vocals. It’s a mosh-pit worthy fireball of energy that belies the musicians’ age (which is also the theme of the music video). Thank the musical gods for it.

#4. Everything Now – Arcade Fire

The sunny,  melodic production – co-production credits go to Daft Punk’s Thomas Bangalter – and the indie everyman vocals of Win Butler on the title track of Arcade Fire’s upcoming album, Everything Now, offer an essentially personal narrative in the overwhelmingly populist reality of the world, where the human struggle is lost to consumerist, majoritarian agendas. It’s a bleak message, and more relevant than ever.

#5. 4 AM ft. Travis Scott – 2 Chainz

2 Chainz has come a long way – his flow’s gotten better, there’s some substance to it, and he sounds more reassured and confident in his rapping. With a smooth banger of a beat and a trademark Travis hook adding to the concoction, this has the potential to be a hit. Either way, it’s a legitimately great track.

 

FIVE SONGS FOR THE WEEKEND – VII

All The Beauty In This Whole Life by Brother Ali

Brother Ali is a rare voice in hip-hop, one of positivity and thoughtfulness, delivering personal and social commentary through lucid lyricism. Given the uneasy social climate prevalent in the USA, this album comes as a shining beacon of light and optimism that acknowledges Ali’s trials, but focusses on seeing ‘all the beauty in this whole life.’

The tone is set on the opening track, Pen to Paper, that acts as an accelerated trip from his childhood to Ali’s current time in life.  Immediately, he explores the ideas of using rap as an outlet for his ideals, while touching upon the troubles that this activism brought upon him and his career. As if to indicate to the listener that he does not intend to dwell on his past, the next track is a celebration of life, with Ali’s animated flow and warm guitar riffs and bright instrumentation courtesy of longtime collaborator Ant (who produces the entire album). It’s impossible to not be affected by Ali’s infectious joy. His Muslim faith is a cornerstone of Brother Ali’s music, and he explores the role it’s played in his attitude towards life and himself in a manner that never comes off as preachy or moralizing, instead showing the listener how it’s been essential to his optimistic worldview.

This isn’t to say the entire album is a saccharine affair – there are sober moments that offer a nuanced take on America’s racial problems in a deeply personal context. The incredible Dear Black Son is a beautiful letter to his titular son, offering advice on navigating the trenches of America’s societal and police discrimination, and wisdom on what it means to be a parent. It’s a wonderfully all-encompassing song that explores the psyche of a minority parent. Before They Called You White is thought-provoking, laying out the origins and consequences of race prejudices and ‘whiteness.’ There is the danger of such a song turning into a sermon in the hands of a less-capable MC, but Ali handles it with grace, extending a hand to the oppressors and seeking peace. What distinguises these tracks is a sense of optimism and looking towards the future, despite the powers-that-be, in whatever form, attempting to bog people down.

A few other standouts include Uncle Usi Taught Me, a fascinating retelling of Brother Ali’s trip to Iran, resulting in legal tangles and a hurried escape from the country. No spoilers, but it’s a testament to Ali’s storytelling skills that the track keeps the listener gripped throughout. Similarly, Never Learn is an absolute winner, combining braggadocio with Ali’s signature appreciation of those ideas greater than himself. The beat is alive, while Ali soars over it with a melodic, dynamic flow. This will be on loop for a long time.

 

All The Beauty in This Whole Life is a truly beautiful album, expressive in the range of human sentiment. Coupling Brother Ali’s powerful lyrics and creative flows with partner-in-crime Ant’s complementary production, with its lush, live-instrument based sounds, has birthed one of Ali’s best albums to date, and easily one of the best of the year. It’s telling that the album is not explicit, with the rare cuss being bleeped out. Brother Ali had clearly set out to create a source of hope in a time that sorely needs some, and he’s succeeded in leaps and bounds. This is hip-hop at its finest, and worthy of every accolade that comes its way.

All The Beauty In This Whole Life by Brother Ali

Five Songs for the Weekend – V

#1. call the police  by LCD Soundsystem

LCD Soundsystem are finally back, and their melancholy dance rock sounds particularly apt for a time “we all know […] is nothing.” The kraftwerkian grooves are as catchy as ever, in contrast to the ponderous brevity of frontman James Murphy’s politically-tinted lyricism. The creators of the perfect soundtrack to dance  away one’s worries are truly back; the new album cannot get here fast enough. 

#2. Glam by Walrus

This hazy, psychedelic track with a contemporary indie bent harkens back to the glory days of glam rock – think Queen meets Daughter – with its earworm guitar riffs and drawling vocals, making it perfect for a sunny afternoon.

#3. Bimmer Music by Ishmael Raps

A high-energy, exuberant track whose aim is to simply be as fun as possible. As evidenced by the title itself, this is made to bump while driving, with its booming production and hyped-up flow. A true banger.

#4. Thinking of a Place by The War on Drugs

Guided by the bittersweet ruminations on life of frontman Adam Granduciel, The War on Drugs’ sprawling new single is a self-contained journey through the many crests, troughs and bends of thought, gliding on ethereal instrumentation that flows with Adam’s vocals to create an experience of a song that transports one to the place he seems lost in.

#5. Intoxicate by ZHU

ZHU is one of the most interesting producers out there right now, with a sexy, sleek aesthetic that is as much electroncia as it is modern RnB. He continues this genre-melding with Intoxicate, combining his own falsetto vocals with his subdued brand of EDM. This one’s for the dark club corners that ZHU owns.

Five Songs for the Weekend – V

5 Artists Who Prove the Future is Genreless

With the way music is consumed continuously changing, the way it is created changes too – artists have found new and exciting ways to destroy the limitations of genre, meld an array of sounds together and shape it into music that pushes boundaries, while still retaining the core of musicality. This charge into a genreless future is being led by a few stellar artists, each in a class of their own while defying categories.

#1. Danny Brown

Danny has been a flag-bearer of irreverence since his breakout XXX mixtape, melding punk rock aggression and energy with hardcore punchline rap over harsh electronica. His drugged-up vocals had no real melody to them, but he flows over any instrumental through a form of controlled chaos, like a hulking rugby player bouncing off the punches of a musical pinball machine. His form of vocal delivery might be rapping, but his music has brought together aspects from an array of genres – from EDM to industrial to electropop – to form a genreless hybrid.

Also listen to: Dip25 Bucks 

#2. Bon Iver

Bon Iver began as Justin Vernon’s intimate acoustic project, expanding his sound on the next album with more layered production, alongside delicate, beautifully measured vocals. But the biggest left turn came with his decidedly weird 22, A Million. Legitimizing ‘folktronica’ with an unconventional blend of acoustic guitars and soft keys with ambient synths and electronicized percussion, the album is this generation’s Kid A. It’s quintessentially indie in its disdain for mainstream genre conventions, and Bon Iver has thus made music all the better for it. 

Also listen to: Skinny LoveHolocene

#3. Flying Lotus

FlyLo is the definition of a musical autuer – he can envision cohesive, stunning genre-melding like few other musicians can, and reject every notion of genre to create niche subgenres all his own.  From instrumental hip-hop, to IDM, to ambient electronica,  to contemporary jazz, he takes existing sounds and infuses them with his own contrarian tendencies, creating experimental music that is never comfortable sticking to established tropes. Flying Lotus represents the rebellious voice of this generation of music, thus laying the foundation for the future.

Also listen to: MmmHmmPutty Boy Strut

#4. Young Thug

Young Thug is a divisive figure, earning as much hate from hip-hop purists as love from the newer generation of the genre’s fans. But restricting him to the genre of hip-hop itself might be a mistake – his singsong voice is unlike any other, and he modulates it to be hilariously fun, a crooner or noticeably sneering. The production matches his tone – fromn trap bangers to smooth, glittering pop and RnB jams, Thugga’s repertoire of musical talent defies every box fans and critics alike have tried to put him in.

Also listen to: Best FriendDigits

#5. Kaytranada

Kaytranada, unlike FlyLo, has a definite sound – dominated by deep bass and hip-hop sensibilities, his base template acts as a blank slate into which Kay paints in strokes of a number of genres. He draws from soundscapes that date back decades, and brings them into contemporary music in a decidedly revisionist manner – he doesn’t assimilate funk, RnB and soul into his music as much as breathe new life into it while respecting its roots. Kaytranada makes music like a true fan – acknowledging the past while looking firmly towards a creative future.

Also listen to: Holy Hole Inna DonutDrive Me Crazy

5 Artists Who Prove the Future is Genreless

Five Songs For The Weekend – IV

A weekly series where we pick 5 songs that we think you’d like to listen to over the weekend

#1. 3WW by alt-J

alt-J could’ve stuck to their indie art-rock vibe for another album, and most fans would’ve loved the album nevertheless. But this gorgeous, subdued track sounds like nothing they’ve ever done before, while reminding the listener in subtle ways that this is the band so many of us fell in love with – the gentle folktronica, Joe Newman’s unmistakable voice all remain. Few bands do esoterica that remains immensely enjoyable like alt-J does, and this track gives us plenty of reason to be excited for Relaxer. 

#2. Third of May / Ōdaigahara by Fleet Foxes

It’s been 6 long years since Fleet Foxes came out with an album, and no band has quite been able to fill the gaps they left behind. But Third of May / Ōdaigahara makes the worth seem wholly worth it. The sprawling track is a poetic masterpiece, a meditation on life’s ups and downs in a musician’s voice, with a warmth that feels like the quiet woods on a cloudy day. The instrumental outro section might be one of the loveliest pieces of music Fleet Foxes have constructed, and it’s a great sign of the music to come.

#3. Meditation ft. Jazmine Sullivan, KAYTRANADA by Goldlink

Goldlink is master of the bounce – he’s been making dance-floor rap for a while now, without having to resort to generic trap or club bangers. Meditation is mellower than his usual offerings, but thanks to a deep, bass-heavy instrumental by the incredible Kaytranda, it’s bound to get you vibing along nevertheless. Add in Jazmine Sullivan’s jazz vocals, and you have a smooth track more than worthy of a dance.

#4. Liability by Lorde

After the upbeat and bittersweet Green Light, the piano ballad that is Liability is a tidal wave of insular melancholy. It wears its sadness on its sleeve, exploring parts of Lorde’s psyche that she herself admits to have not written into her music before. As with so much of her music, it feels like it’s written for her audience as much as for herself. This is beautifully simple, moving song – if Melodrama sounds like this, it will cement Lorde’s status as one of the best musicians of our generation.

#5. Red Mercedes by Aminé

Red Mercedes is definitely not the song you’d have expected from Aminé after Caroline – this is a more traditional rap track in terms of melody, but it certainly retains the light-heartedness of the first track, albeit with an audible sneer post the success of Caroline. Aminé’s flows on the track with ease, the grimy production appropriate for the track’s mood. It’s going to be interesting to see where the budding artist goes next.

 

 

 

 

Five Songs For The Weekend – IV

India Needs Hip Hop Right Now

In February of 2016, the ‘JNU incident‘ rocked India, and laid bare, among other things, an insidious campaign by the government to clamp down on voices of protest and dissent – voices such as that of Kanhaiya Kumar, Umar Khalid and more. In the aftermath of their own struggles against the system, support poured in from multiple avenues, including one that hasn’t been prominent since the days of the freedom struggle – the protest song. Local producers Dub Sharma and MojoJojo turned the slogans and speeches of the movement – by Kanhaiya and Umar, respectively – into revolutionary anthems. The songs were earworms, with appropriately rousing production, which went viral and turned into protest tools themselves. The sampling and instrumental reminded one of the foremost anti-establishment musical genre of our times – hip hop.

 

Hip hop is rooted in sociopolitical struggle, as a way for minorities and the disadvantaged to express themselves. Spoken word legend, Gil Scott Heron, whose work is often credited with laying the foundation for hip hop, and rap’s lyrical themes, had explicitly political pieces, such as the seminal The Revolution Will Not Be Televised. 

 

Possibly the first ‘conscious’ rap track, the classic The Message by Grandmaster Flash and The Furious Five, continued this tradition, relaying the reality of the ghettos millions of Black men and women were stuck in, to the radios of White America. Groups such as the unapologetic Public Enemy were far rawer and angrier, directly speaking to the powers that be, and vowing to tear them down – sample this lyric that’s gone down in hip hop history:

I got a letter from the government the other day
I opened and read it, it said they were suckers

 

This represented a blunt attack on the institutions that sought to blur the line between patriotism and toeing the government line. It refused acquiescence to the majority view, of false nationalism. This is a stance that many in India can relate to right now, despite the prevalent fierce authoritarianism and majority-appeasement. And in such an environment, musicians are a critical voice, one that can represent, and reach large sections of the population. And fortunately, unlike Scott Heron’s time, the revolution need not be televised for it to reach the masses – social media, YouTube, SoundCloud and more have democratized the spread of music.

Luckily, Indian hip hop has taken advantage of this ecosystem to develop a grassroots movement that is slowly but surely seeping into the mainstream. Way back in 2007, Blaaze put out Ban The Crooked Police, an indictment of the corrupt police force that was a singular political moment in Indian music. Unfortunately, the song never gained the traction it should have. But it was an important moment, and one that many familiar with the Indian rap community recognize as a classic.

 

Fortunately, two of the biggest names on the scene right now, Naezy and Divine, belong to a breed of rapper that rep the communities they come from, and present intricate details of their lives, while continuously working their way upwards. This parallels the rise of rappers in 90s America, whether it be Nas, Biggie, Jay Z on the East Coast, or N.W.A, Tupac and their like on the West Coast – who told gritty tales of the environments they were a product of, and hence vividly brought into the public consciousness the lives of people who were glossed over for decades. They were angry, they had something to say, and they wanted to claim glory. Take the song that is largely responsible for Naezy and Divine’s status in music, the stellar collaboration, Mere Gully Mein. 

The language employed is important – the vernacular is straight from the streets they’re from, and is a lyrical trip through the narrow gullys and tiny houses they grew up in, and refuse to abandon. There is pride in what these places, and the people in them, have given them, with the occasional nod to the institutionalized corruption; a favourite line is

Chor mere gully mein, woh toh saala mantri hai

The music video enhances the verbal imagery, providing visual context to the music, with glimpses of everyday life, as well as shots of celebration of how far they’ve come, hip hop dancing and all. It’s an honest representation of the rappers’ lives, in a manner reminiscent of the roots of the genre in sound and theme, such as the classic Nas track, NY State of Mind. What Nas accomplished was an exercise in lyrical painting, presenting imagery that rang true for the communities it came from, while challenging the preconceptions of the white majority in the rest of America. Similarly, Naezy and Divine are fresh young voices for people that were subject to one-note stereotypical representation in popular culture. It’s only when these tropes are broken and rewritten that the monotone narrative of governments and privileged voices can be challenged, and attacked.

These new narratives are being written right now – Naezy’s latest track, Azaad Hu Mai, is an aggressive declaration of freedom from oppressive forces, with a stunning flow and lyrical acrobatics that put him among the best, irrespective of language, rapped over production that harkens back to the glory days of NY rap. But possibly the most important of this release is its form, as part of the popular music streaming app, Saavn’s Artist Original Program, of which Naezy is the first to be a part of. This represents a merge of his music into the mainstream, a blow to the grand old forces of generic Bollywood music, thus making for a fierce, revolutionary statement. Remember, this is a guy that started off recording music on his iPad just a few short years ago. Naezy has come a long way, and it’s an essential rebuff of the status quo – a role he acknowledges and owns, with lyrics such as

Vyaktigat koshish se bhi kraanti ka aagaz hu mai

Divine, meanwhile, is firmly grounded in the streets, and his Gully Gang, his music expressing the passion of someone who’s had little to his name. This music is released through Sony Music Entertainment India, one of the biggest record labels in the country, and one that usually restricts itself to Bollywood. This integration of underground hip hop into the mainstream reflects the rise of major label hip hop in the US in the 90s; mistakes were made then, but with that precedent, it seems likely that Divine and his ilk will fight to retain creative control. It’s heartening, then, that his latest songs stick to his roots.

 

And there are the rappers who are using music purely as an activistic tool, such as the indomitable Sofia Ashraf. Since her most famous song, the anti-Unilever Kodaikanal Won’tSofia has taken a stand on multiple other political issues, including most recently, the infamous Sasikala.

 

Sofia and her band take their message against divisive politics literally to the streets outside Sasikala’s residence, before they’re stopped by a cop. It’s a small, yet powerful moment – it’s hip hop as protest, a voice for those deemed voiceless. It’s a testament to the necessity of music existing outside traditional avenues of music, away from the privileged avenues of movie industries that forced political correctness into Indian music. This is art at its truest, its purest.

Indian hip hop is just beginning to come into its own, but it has already ensured that it’s a force to reckon with. There are dozens more rappers other than the ones mentioned here who are making their presence felt, and will continue to contriubte to the burgeoning scene. Their very act of creating music for their communities is political, and as their music evolves, it is sure to find ways to make far more explicit statements. There is hope that our rappers, in the words of the Mighty Mos Def, will take

Hip-Hop past all your tall social hurdles

India Needs Hip Hop Right Now