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.

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An Outsider’s Ode to Hip Hop – Part 2

An Outsider’s Ode to Hip Hop – Part 1

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Kendrick Lamar’s 2012 masterpiece good kid, m.A,A.d city was, by any measure, one of the best albums to come out in years. Kendrick is one of the finest MCs to ever grace the mic, and he’s aided by production that complements his lyrical detailing stunningly well. It’s a supremely engaging work of music. But most importantly, it’s a meticulously told tale of Compton, California. It’s a lens into the life of a community and a people away from mainstream discourse, where the primary voices are those of the talents that emerge from within the community.

It seems that GKMC provided an image that most in the USA were themselves under-educated on. To a middle class high-schooler from India, then, it was a fascinating, complex, almost frighteningly voyeuristic insight into a life thousands of kilometers away from me.  But somehow, the music spoke to me. It intrigued me. It made me want to delve into the intricacies of the lives of the people – such as Kendrick – who lived these lives every day. It goaded me into educating myself on issues of race, class, crime and culture that have always been a source of keen interest for me. The album, to me, wasn’t just music. It was a focal point in understanding a culture to which I was an outsider. And that, has been a compelling reason why I’m drawn to hip-hop, and why it’s been so important to me.

Continue reading “An Outsider’s Ode to Hip Hop – Part 1”

An Outsider’s Ode to Hip Hop – Part 1

The Grammys & the Plague of Inoffensiveness

Art is inherently political. Now, of all times, the very existence of music that goes against the grain, or is created by communities that continue to be suppressed, is a truly political statement. However, the distribution of music as such is structured like a business – and like most businesses – it attempts to play things safe so as to retain large sections of its consumer base.

The Grammys are one such institution whose facade is of the promotion of the arts, but whose racial bias shows its true colours, of which there is only one – white. This discriminatory tint to the most prestigious awards show in the Western music industry is a little more complex than pointed racism.

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The Grammys & the Plague of Inoffensiveness

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.

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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

Thoughts: The Life of Pablo

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Source: Billboard

 

Kanye West is a man.

Despite his god complex, and its translation into his music (particularly on Yeezus) the most compelling of his music, and his persona, remains that he is terribly human. While in past albums, disparate aspects of Kanye’s have manifested with stunning coherence, The Life of Pablo presents Ye at his most discomfiting, irreprehensible, confusing, and captivating. There is a method to his madness, hard as it may be to see at times.

Continue reading “Thoughts: The Life of Pablo”

Thoughts: The Life of Pablo