Song review-Nipsey by Trae The Truth

Song review-Nipsey by Trae The Truth

by Dan-O

I do not feel well. Generally, I am not a neurotic person. My mind is something I manage assertively but the beat on Trae The Truth’s song Nipsey sounds like the buzzing in my head ever since Nip passed. The light piano is the ever-present weeping of those of us that followed Hussle through his mixtape maturation. Everyone is shouting out Nipsey nowadays, at varying levels of stylishly being-in-the-know and authentically dealing. Figures that it would be Trae The Truth that broke me in half and brought me to tears on it.

It figures because this is the guy who punched Mike Jones and evolved into the man who organized the Relief Gang to save people during Hurricane Harvey. This is the kid of dude who only features with people that are known as legit people. You won’t see Trae featuring on a song with some purple haired episcopal white rapper named Ballbag.  When the scariest voice in rap says “Damn, I never picture you leavin’ can’t stop the grievin'” it breaks me to pieces because it is perfectly the dark cloud over my head. Beyond prayer hand emoji’s whipped out for any loss of life… Nipsey was supposed to be old and wise and helping his whole coast!

This song is from Trae’s new album Exhale and the project is superb, maybe a little better than his awesome album last year, Hometown Hero. This isn’t the best song, to be honest, Even Tho Its Hard is entrancingly melodic heartfelt and tough. Trae is Scarfaces legacy pulled through Drakes melodic additions to the format. It is all very serious but it sounds beautiful.

I think that is why I trust him to break me in half and put me together every time I hear his dedication to his friend. The same way the kids at Woodbridge Forest Middle School were so relieved to jump into his truck and bail to safety during the hurricane. I rely on Trae (in a much more low stakes way!) to help me with grief in a way that keeps my head up with eyes on Hussle’s legacy and achievements.  No guns, no needless tough talk.

Is it weird for me to get so emotional over someone I never met? Trae will understand. Trae and I share a belief that you must live with pain to see the other side of it and the songs we listen to, the people in our lives, the days that go right, are all pieces of the correct medicine. The “foundation of integrity” Nipsey speaks on in the ending audio clip is perfect for Exhale. A whole album where Trae flexes by doing what rappers can’t do anymore; step outside their brand. You see, Trae isn’t a brand. He’s a place. He’s Houston.

Song of The Year-Wolf Mode by Chris Rivers

Song of The Year-Wolf Mode by Chris Rivers

by Dan-O

When talking about Noname a friend of mine made the argument that while her follow up album was very good(Room 25), she will likely spend her career measured against the song Casket Pretty from her first album (Telefone). This isn’t about producing an insurmountable hit. Casket Pretty is a hushed poetic eulogy to all the people who shouldn’t have had to die. It’s succinct, dynamic, and gripping. That song will be something a lot of people never ever forget and when her name comes up that song will be the first reply.

I mention this to say Wolf Mode is that song for Chris Rivers. His whole career has been building to it. Wolf Mode is what makes hip hop more than a financially successful genre it can act as a method of group therapy. He combines multi-speed raw flow excellence with an ease in discussing mental illness that few have. He chides someone for never giving love unconditionally and then hopes they die, and pretty immediately admits he has attempted suicide. This isn’t a sad song where the piano helps us cry with him. This is a bass heavy chant about how tough are skin needs to be, how the trials we have been through have built us scar and scab by scar and scab. With under a minute to go Chris double times “I’d rather have the hard truth than a sweet lie because the hard truth still apply to me…” and he’s nailed it. The gorgeous glimmering jewel that sits in the genres heart. This space is where you can tell it how it really is. The Jonas boys make fun music but you’ll never know if they battled sobriety.

I remember watching the documentary and seeing Big Pun hit his wife with a gun while a room of his associates bowed their head and said nothing. This is the guy who gave me the best hip hop album of all time(Capital Punishment, no arguments). As Rivers came up I always wanted to ask him how he balances those contradicting ends of his fathers legacy. This many years later to have his son spitting about self love and forgiveness, mistakes and how the deep scars mean the most has been therapeutic for me. I’m sure many have “canceled” Pun based on the documentary but River’s new album G.I.T.U. makes an important case that a person with a good heart can fix themselves if they have the time. Pun was robbed of that. I’m so glad Chris hasn’t been.

Stream or download G.I.T.U. below:

https://mellomusicgroup.bandcamp.com/album/g-i-t-u

 

#MarkTheDate-May The Super MC Super Producer Full Album Never Die

#MarkTheDate-May The Super MC Super Producer Full Album Never Die

by Dan-O

Two very important albums by legendary producer-rapper pairings have been announced. Both are scheduled to come out soon but not soon enough. Both are coming out on Mello Music Group who tomorrow will release an album by Big Pun’s son Chris Rivers.  #MarkTheDate is designed to keep you, dear reader, abreast of dope albums coming out in the future that aren’t from the 1%ers who can afford an expensive ad campaign.

Complicate Your Life With Violence by L’Orange & Jeremiah Jae

The first album by these two is called The Night Took Us In Like Family and it is probably the best Mello Music Group album not by Open Mike Eagle. This time around the single, Dead Battery, hints at the team building on what was so good the first time. The bass is mean. The soul in this soul music is the kind that makes you screwface, that dark energy. Jeremiah Jae locks in with his easy semi-monotone flow. He says unexpected things “bring honor to the name while marching through the flames” but boy does he know how to threaten and all of it swims together because his flow is so easy. Meanwhile, L’Orange chops the song in sections inserting old movie clips, subtle and not-subtle beat switches that knock you out of any comfort zone. Trust me it doesn’t matter if anyone features on this album. These two are thorough they don’t just make great songs. They make great album covers great album titles great track sequencing so just strap in. This comes out October fourth so go to the bandcamp link below and check out Dead Battery. Add this to your list.

https://lorange360.bandcamp.com/album/complicate-your-life-with-violence

Retropolitan by Skyzoo & Pete Rock

I need not speak of Pete Rock. He is not just a Mt. Rushmore hip hop producer he is one of the lasts Golden era producers still throwing HEAT with his beats(don’t ask me to throw others under the bus who aren’t). The first review I did of Skyzoo I compared him to CL Smooth. It is amazing to see him link up with Pete Rock. Skyzoo is lyrically dense but in no way pretentious. This is why the track Eastern Conference All Stars on their new album Retropolitan features the thoughtful Detroit wordsmith Elzhi alongside the Griselda boys(Conway The Machine, Benny The Butcher, Westside Gunn) who are known for hard nosed NY Goon rap on steroids. Listen to the single, It’s All Good, for proof of why so many have so much respect for Skyzoo. It is about duffle bags fitted caps and boobs but it is poetry.  At this stage in his career he knows himself so well. He chuckles and says he looks like he ghostwrites and then starts talking about how his son is old enough to use the potty now. When you believe in your abilities amazing things can happen. Having the rich sparkling twinkle of Pete F$%*ing Rock doesn’t ever hurt. September 20th is when this gets released so mark that on your calendar digital or analog. Go to the bandcamp link below and listen to the single, It’s All Good.

 

https://mmg-skyzoo.bandcamp.com/album/retropolitan

P.S. Shout out to Pete Rock and another classic producer hero of mine DJ Muggs who have really embraced the new NY underground talent. Pete did an incredible album with Smoke Dza and Muggs is all over it working with Roc Marciano, Crimeapple, and Mach Hommy. Some old heads fall out of the now while Muggs/Rock have always been about the music. They always find something to like even if the beach has a lot of trash strewn on the sand.

 

#Bandcampgold-That’s The World by Anti-Lilly and Phoniks

#Bandcampgold-That’s The World by Anti-Lilly and Phoniks

by Dan-O

Being a philosophical person isn’t that fun. It’s thousands of persisting strands of concern intersecting and reproducing. This is part of the reason that dumb rappers tend to make albums that are more fun (depends on how you define fun). Fake deep hits the listeners sweet spot on the pop level. You get enough thought/detail to hold onto but not enough to bum you out.  With the contorted soul landscape Phoniks has brought to life on their group project Anti-Lilly is completely free to haunt my brain with realizations about life that shake my own. At time on their new album, That’s The World, I have gotten genuinely emotional listening. Not because something went wrong… because the depth of what he points to in us that is wrong is historical present and terrifying.

Things you need to know

  1. Anti-Lilly whispers and if you can’t handle it I won’t hold it against you. Any rapper that chooses the subtle tones over the roar knows what they have signed up for. Not everyone’s cup of tea.
  2. You can call this a vibe. You could call it smooth. However you want to frame the sounds of this album they will not rock your car stereo, this isn’t built for your frat party. It doesn’t have a stand out BIG PIMPIN’ style single.

 

The rest of this review is dedicated to two songs. The features are up and down, the project is cohesive and rewarding upon relistens but I need to talk to you about these songs. I might never be able to listen to Father’s Day and hold myself together. This is because his story is so similar to mine. His struggle is one I am still going through. In the song he negotiates the anger he has with his father for treating his mother poorly, cheating on her “In my younger days I wanted to crack you for ever tear she had shed/ things you’ve done I could never forget.”, against the traits he sees in himself that his father gave him.  “…Either way I’m blessed you brought us up/love is tough but because of you I never settled/learned my worth and got my work ethic from you.” When he says “Because of you to this day I’ve never cheated,” it shocked me. I’ve never cheated on anyone, even when we were casual, and I know it is because I experienced the way my father manipulated my mother in the later years of their marriage. Anti-Lilly, like me, has never been able to wrap his head around the ethics of it. The loyalty we all preach in male friendships yet the snaking around dudes do in heterosexual relationships. My biggest fear since I was eighteen years old is letting my people down. It’s because I watched a good man do it to everyone, that year. So that song is real good.

The Fall is even better. Phoniks balances the horns with the bass into a magical melody that feels utterly complete. Phoniks lives in Maine I live in Maine; I need to high five this dude outside of a Cumberland Farms one day. Anti-Lilly gives a heck of a first verse line after the hook. “The first time I got my @$$ whooped I was testin’ somebodies pride/ That N_ slid me ended up realigning mines/The second time I got my @$$ whooped tried to slam a N_ twice my size/ dressed in faith/That’s when I finally realized/ ain’t no ho up in my blood or in my eyes/ only pride.” As the beat resonates sounding like the hip hop version of the Jazz song that makes you think about your life, Anti-Lilly picks apart pride from different angles. In one bar he warns not “to let it get you F’d up/ to get in your way/don’t let it get overshadowed by voices saying you can’t.” He explains the negative side of pride clouding you as well as the confidence it can give you to drive forward(and overcome external or internal doubt) in a matter of seconds. Anti-Lilly thinks at a blinding speed which makes Phoniks so important. I need his hypnotizing soul music to manufacture that smooth ride because That’s The World is not a smooth ride for the heavily introspective attentive listener. It’s a lot but if you’re a philosophical thinker it’s such a relief to know your not worrying alone.

Stream or Download That’s The World below:

https://antilillyandphoniks.bandcamp.com/album/thats-the-world

 

 

My Second Book Means Everything

Dan 6x9_Front_Cover
My Second Book Means Everything

by  Dan-O

I was raised to believe it is all a badly told lie. My father was put in jail by a police force that never was there to help him when gangs abused him. He wasn’t shy about sharing his experiences. I was pulled from class for shouting to my classmates that Santa wasn’t real. In many important ways my new book, The Konane Board & Right To Vengeance, fully realize my lineage in the world of pessimistic conspiratorial paranoia.

My father and mother are from California. My father saw a Hells Angel who had been hired as security kill someone who just wanted to watch The Rolling Stones but that was all family mythology for me. George Orwell took center stage in my life as one of the few writers who was right about how messed up things are. Most people love 1984, I still haven’t finished it, but Animal Farm was perfect.

It showed the destructive nature of power without letting you off the hook allowing you to think evil people pulled the wool over everyone. This wasn’t Thanos v. Captain Marvel all the animals start with good intentions but human behavior in groups becomes political and the political orbits feeds on nothing but power. Orwell could go big picture and talk about the mechanics of political power but he cared about people on a granular level. The essay that never leaves me from him was published in November of 1945 under the title, Revenge Is Sour, take a look at this section below where a Jewish American soldier interrogates a Nazi immediately after the war.

Later, there were further humiliations. Another S.S. officer, a large brawny man, was ordered to strip to the waist and show the blood group number tattooed on his under-arm; another was forced to explain to us how he had lied about being a member of the S.S. and attempted to pass himself off as an ordinary soldier of the Wehrmacht. I wondered whether the Jew was getting any real kick out of this new-found power that he was exercising. I concluded that he wasn’t really enjoying it, and that he was merely — like a man in a brothel, or a boy smoking his first cigar, or a tourist traipsing round a picture gallery — telling himself that he was enjoying it, and behaving as he had planned to behave in the days he was helpless.

It is absurd to blame any German or Austrian Jew for getting his own back on the Nazis. Heaven knows what scores this particular man may have had to wipe out; very likely his whole family had been murdered; and after all, even a wanton kick to a prisoner is a very tiny thing compared with the outrages committed by the Hitler regime. But what this scene, and much else that I saw in Germany, brought home to me was that the whole idea of revenge and punishment is a childish daydream. Properly speaking, there is no such thing as revenge. Revenge is an act which you want to commit when you are powerless and because you are powerless: as soon as the sense of impotence is removed, the desire evaporates also.

You cannot underestimate how important that last sentence is for The Konane Board. If you buy the book and start reading, asking yourself what characters are acting out of “the sense of impotence” necessary for revenge you’ll be surprised. It’s funny but sad , LeCarre looking for traitors inside British Intelligence mixed with the interlocking dark hopeless humor of Adult Swim’s Venture Brothers. Both of those influences link back to Orwell. This new book is everything and everything is Orwell.

P.S. An incredible writing teacher I had in college told me my problem was that the story I was writing meant everything and so it was hard for the reader to follow. The title of this post is a wink in that direction since that is still very much the challenge. I want you in on everything.

Amazon link is below:

https://www.amazon.com/Konane-Board-Right-Vengeance/dp/0359021603/ref=sr_1_1?keywords=daniel+olney&qid=1564507289&s=gateway&sr=8-1

 

Why Some Kids Have A Hard Time with Nas

Why Some Kids Have A Hard Time with Nas

by Dan-O

This is not a hit piece or oppositional take. None of what I am going to write after this calls into question the lyrical skill or historical importance of Nas. Last week we finally got The Lost Tapes 2, the sequel to one of the best collections of bonus stuff ever. It is not great but part of that is how Nas has changed so much over the years. When someone says they don’t like Nas old heads will get mad and act like Illmatic is being called into question. The kid that made Illmatic and It Was Written is NOWHERE to be found on The Lost Tapes 2. Make no mistake, a few key things have changed.

Sexual Politics

I understand people on all ends of the spousal abuse allegations. Some people dismissed them outright some dismissed Nas outright believing Kelis. I try not to think too hard about them because it is very difficult to know what went on inside a relationship. The balance between a couples privacy and not supporting a terrible person can be impossibly hard from too far a distance. You don’t have to factor those in at all to be unhappy with this current version of Nas and his sexual politics.

When Nas made a song because his daughter instagrammed a box of condoms (Daughters) I didn’t like it but it was fine. Dad feelings are not rational or consistent and the song does a pretty good job elaborating on that. I wish the sexual shaming of women was just Dad stuff but it is not. The hook on Royalty off LT2 starts “Whatever you do, young king, don’t wind up dead/Young queen, cross your legs.” That is his intellectual message to women in a nutshell. Stop having sex if you want to be valuable. That’s a rough start but it gets worse. On Vernon Family (LT2) it gets WEIRD!

“Ejaculatory depression after sex
And that mean after I nut, don’t touch me, no questions
Unless she’s a restless spirit, then I can heal it
Spend a lot of time together, I know her feelings
But you fightin’ what the essence of a woman is
I respect you, my love’s limitless
But what are you becoming?
You wanna be the man or the woman?”

Questions: 1. YO YO YO shouldn’t you focus on your ejaculatory depression and get therapy for that. 2. How are you healing her when you have ejaculatory depression!! 3. Why can’t she decide what “the essence of a woman is” ? 4. What did she do to have her gender role questioned?

If you’re a 20 year old listening to this dude for the first time you have to be thinking this is an old creep with gender issues. Why doesn’t he want young women to have sex and be happy? What is wrong with having a restless spirit? While he is telling his “Queens” to not have sex he is a tech billionaire just getting out of a relationship with Nicki Minaj, coming out of a very messy divorce. So why am I hearing this dudes sex songs out? Skip it.

 

Tone

If we are honest with ourselves, Nas tone has changed. People like Raekwon can make a legendary career in the artform and their tone never changes. Nas is more like Common or Kweli and his flow can be insulting at times. He sounds like the guy who read the book and is very sure you didn’t. He needs to explain it to you but he never breaks down anything all that deep. Look at track 9 (War Against Love) off LT2.

“Scientists told us how the Mayans lived
Highways and landing strips for planes to land
Before the Wright Brothers’ plan, aerodynamics
Now I’m chillin’ twenty karats like a savage, not embarrassed
Buy what I’m coppin’ while I’m shoppin’ out in Paris
Parasites try to steal the culture
While chemtrails and satellites hover over”

Questions: 1. What the F*&% does your twenty karat purchase have to do with the Mayans or the Wright Brothers? 2. Any reason to talk about parasites stealing the culture right then other than it rhymes with Paris? 3. How do Chemtrails relate to any of this? Nas isn’t going to give you an album where he talks about the Mayans in depth. He knows about Chemtrails and satellites but just like aerodynamics he’s never going to give us enough detail to know how much he knows. If you were at a party and a dude came up to you talking this stuff you’d think he was up to his ears in false-namechecking stuff he heard about. I am not saying Nas is not smart enough to know everything in this verse up down and center, I’m saying he sounds full of it. Now put yourself in the shoes of a 20 year old whose old hip hop uncle says Nas is the god. You hear this song and think…..really? How is this better than J. Cole?

The real answer to that kid is he used to be. Now he is swishing the wine around his thin glass and sniffing before he sips. That’s cool. He’s earned it. Anyone acting like this dude is still “Nasty Nas” is just kidding themselves. Not I. I know this is a different dude and after all I’ve said about him, he dislikes me worse than any doubts I have about him. This Nas is king of the intellectual and economic caste system and to him, I’m junk no matter what I’ve been through. Before I wrote this it didn’t matter, I ain’t him.

#BandcampGold-New American Frontier by The Trusty Snakes

#BandcampGold-New American Frontier by The Trusty Snakes

by Dan-O

Alright, I don’t like the new Bruce Springsteen album Western Stars. We’re all supposed to. Bruce stepped back into his Country/Folk style this year in a very post-Sturgill Simpson way. The album is better than some of his recent work but the basic problem I have is that it works from the understandng that the old country music was precious and heartfelt. Sometimes it was, but it had more dimension than that. If you want stripped down Folk/Country Bruce find Nebraska because it gives a range of emotions. It’s not afraid to rage and churn and break down. In 2019, I’d rather listen to The Trusty Snakes than The Boss.

They are an Oregon Punk band called The Taxpayers who while on the road listened to a lot of old Country and found lots of common ground between the genres and became The Trusty Snakes. The same forceful propulsion that thrust their heavily political punk forward keeps the characters and scenes depicted in New American Frontier vivid. The lyrics equal the force of the music in boldness. The first song is only one minute and twenty four seconds but in that time we go from first meeting to marriage without wasting any time for a hook or chorus. It’s a sweet song that you’ll need to come back to once you jump into the harsh world of Ain’t Gonna Change. That song starts slow and sorrowful with a first few lines that will grab your attention, “Monday’s it’s beer. Tuesday’s it’s Whiskey. Wednesday’s it’s wine and cocaine, Thursday he wakes up and beats both his kids up. Every damn week it’s the same. Friday’s it’s jail and Diffy posts bail…”

I love that the album carries more than a bit of Randy Newman’s Good Old Boys in the way it seeks to understand the hearts of characters the authors don’t always respect. When Rob Taxpayer belts that some people ain’t gonna change you feel the tragedy in his voice. Next song a dude kills the dude his wife cheats with and beats her up in a diner all while the drums are jumping and popping. The only cover is Can I Sleep In Your Arms? from Willie Nelson’s legendary Red Headed Stranger. While Rob doesn’t have the soulful dimension in his voice that Willie had in 1975 (no shots!) none of us do. The vocal harmonies on this version give the chorus a cool campfire vibe, as if this is a song we all know and can sing together. They integrate trumpet along with guitar and drums to give this a feel all their own.

First time I put New American Frontier on in the car I didn’t know how my wife would take to it. It is folkpunk disjointed, fast then slow then fast, angry then sad then scary but her face lit up. She said “I love Cake and The Mountain Goats so this is my thing.” The tangled lyricism mixed with the high octane fun and sneaky orchestration had finally pushed me into her comfort zone. When I tried to put on Western Stars her face drooped. It was as if one of the greatest to ever make music was desperately searching for something but not finding it. While The Trusty Snakes got together and made up something great organically, accidentally, and thought it was so cool they just kept pushing into one of the years best albums.

Stream or download New American Frontier below: https://trustysnakes.bandcamp.com/album/new-american-frontier

 

Song of The Year-Palmolive Featuring Pusha T and Killer Mike produced by Madlib by Freddie Gibbs

Song of The Year-Palmolive Featuring Pusha T and Killer Mike produced by Madlib by Freddie Gibbs

by Dan-O

In 2014 when Madlib and Freddie Gibbs produced Pinata I thought the two were magnificently matched. A song like Deeper is just not possible without the mutilated soul Madlib feeds Freddie. For some rappers soul sample based beats (Madlib, 9th Wonder) push them into a gentler, reflective place. A chance to put the teeth away and show another side; for Gibbs it is very much not like that.

You can tell because on Palmolive, one of two epic posse cuts on the new Madlib x Gibbs album Bandana, Gibbs starts his verse with “Kane season/F_ing my pastor daughter in two Jesus pieces/Dropping this blow on the basement floor/My Yeezy’s squeaking” all while the bridge to the Sylvers song Cry Of A Dreamer gets the falsetto pulled out and stabbed then kicked behind Freddie to sound like the spooky painful cry that inspires his seething darkness. How bleak is Gibbs? Am I exaggerating? He doubles his own vocals so he can comment on what he is saying and the conversation he’s having with himself is brutal PTSD recollection. “Fernando said they used to move chickens in the Noriega days(Yeah)/ I disrespect his name and he signed my face with a razor blade (True story, N_).”

This song is the perfect meeting of seething darkness. Killer Mike’s chorus carries that bullish swagger, that evil sneer daring you to challenge or doubt the truth of this song. Pusha T doesn’t just understand what Palmolive wants to do, he helped build the model for it. He begins speaking so specifically that it is chilling and he does it all in code you might not understand if your not combing through. When he says “PTSD from what I weighed on the digital,” a casual fan could get lost. My favorite is “The love of your life rap n_ wear fake watches/ the serial number don’t match the gift boxes.” This dude is rapping about knock off watch serial numbers! Push doesn’t care who understands or don’t he needs to speak to his audience on this song. When Push asks the audience if they are Alpo or Mitch it’s a more important question than you might understand. Mitch is dead and Alpo is in witness protection. The question brings the darkness center stage. Are you a traitor? Will you be the end of me? Where in this world can I be safe, if not for the rest of my life for a little while to just get my head together?

The other collaboration is the second to last song called Education. It has Yasiin Bey and Black Thought throwing 100 mph while Freddie does the same but it’s not Palmolive. This one is for fans like me who have Raekwon lyrics tattooed on their soul. If I am ever listening to Palmolive and someone robs me I’ll shrug and think “makes sense.” It’s the most desperate jagged lyrical diamond of 2019 and that spares no one from the conversation. Give me Bandana and keep the rest.

Song Review-Special by Gucci Mane featuring Anuel AA produced by Murda Beatz and Cubeatz

Song Review-Special by Gucci Mane featuring Anuel AA produced by  Murda Beatz and Cubeatz

By Dan-O

The reasons you should think of Gucci Mane as a genius lyricist are pretty straight forward: 1. Individuality-built his style on his own not a product of anyone or any other movement (in this way I think of him as the E-40 of Atlanta). 2. Bold experimentation-he’s always folding different talents into his universe and letting them inform it (Lil Uzi Vert, Rocko, Young Scooter, etc). 3-Depth-whether it is how he strings the rhyming together, the uniqueness of the words used or the observations… if you really listen Gucci is KILLING his bars.

Gucci Mane dropped a new album called Delusions of Grandeur which at 18 tracks long gives you all the different forms of Gucci on a polished ready-for-primetime level. Production wise he incorporates Kenny Beats, Tay Keith and J.White Did It into the fold with Southside, Zaytoven, and a bunch of recognizable names. Tay Keith did Sicko Mode, J. White Bodak Yellow, and Kenny Beats took Key! And Rico Nasty to the next level on separate projects. Gucci has always been an amazing talent scout and that continues here. Even Justin Bieber is perfectly placed singing the hook on Love Thru The Computer.

In regard to depth, a line on the song Special really blew my mind. He says “Like Cinderella they think I was born with chedda.” I flinched, and was struck by it…wait Cinderella was scrubbing the floor…we know that as the audience…what is he talking about it? As I thought about it the fog lifted. We know Cinderella’s story as the reader but picture the happily ever after of her life. Any person she meets post-“It’s your slipper!”is not going to know what we know. So she will smile keep her chin up, act stately, and live up to what they think she is. The truth is not even something she has the time to explain, nor does she have the faith they would understand. This mirrors his journey. When Delusions of Grandeur broke people were tweeting things like “GUCCI IS THE GOAT!!” “GUCCI NEVER MADE A BAD ALBUM!” I will tell you that when those mixtapes broke people were calling him disgraceful and dumb BEFORE he got an ice cream come tattooed on his face. I was dismissive of him partly because the wrong white hip hop fans wanted him for their new Flavor Flav. Serious people taught me to get serious about him but I was already suspicious based on killer guest features.

That’s what Delusions of Grandeur is about. Being the best at what you do, the last one standing from a generation with no one left that really remembers how hard it was to get there. No one to stop and say “How cool is it that in 2019 Gucci threw Anuel AA on this track to do a Spanish verse.” It’s a song about being special, not just how cool it is but how bizarre it feels.

 

Best Albums of 2019 Spotlight: This Is How You Smile by Helado Negro

Best Albums of 2019 Spotlight: This Is How You Smile by Helado Negro

by Dan-O

A man in a yellow shirt with a sloppy 70’s-bank-heist afro greeted us warmly, joking and then announcing he would play his new album from beginning to end. I remember feeling relieved. This Is How You Smile should be heard together. The drum machine that pulsed behind him was connected to a yellow light that blinked as the beat dropped. Other band members picked up violins for songs then put them down and picked up Saxophones. Different sounds floated in and out while this magnetic centerpiece held us all in the palm of his hand. This short Latino oddball named Helado Negro who doesn’t have the best (or worst) voice set the crowd off with every piece of banter. Every hook he sang he dug all the way into. His guitar work settling and relaxing but not boring.

It is hard to recommend the album to new ears knowing it doesn’t have a clear path to head nodding. It’s not like, “Once you get to track two you will be blown away! That thing is a hit! Car commercials here we come!” It’s a rolling musical experience with different genre elements. If I tell someone my favorite song is Fantasma Vaga and they ask what that means…I have no idea. Some of these songs are in Spanish (I listen to a lot of Salsa so this doesn’t bother me at all but some might not be able to connect). My corrected pitch:  This is How You Smile loves you back when you don’t love yourself. When you are sad but not heartbroken or devastated just listless and paranoid…Helado Negro is the voice you need. On Imagining What To Do he implores us to go softly and slowly. That is the same song he says “Winter will be gone tomorrow, just lay inside your dream,” Followed by a soft “Hehe”.

What carried through to the live show from the album is the sincerity involved. He is a sensitive narrator and an intelligent one without any pretense or talking down to his audience. Forty seven seconds into Seen My Aura he announces he has no shoes on and is walking on sunburned pavement trying to look cool and the corner of his lip turns in a smirk. The smirk was always there, but I’m glad I got to see it.

I don’t know what you listen to music for. What you hope to get out of it. I think most people don’t even ask that question. My personal answer:  I want to live with someone who is interesting for a while. Whether that is living with Wiz Khalifa in 2011 or Madonna in 1994 I just want to be around someone or some people who are interesting. New perspectives help me build my empathy muscles.  A great album remains interesting through repeated listens because of the things you can find in it. The places it can take you even after you know where it goes. This Is How You Smile is built for years of that.

His bandcamp has three songs you can listen to

https://heladonegro.bandcamp.com/album/this-is-how-you-smile

You can also bump This Is How You Smile on whatever streaming service you use.