Song of The Year- Cuz I Love You by Lizzo
This is my favorite first song of the year (it’s from the self-titled album). Sure, Lizzo has a show stopping voice of the kind I would stab an alien for. That is not the most exciting thing about Lizzo. I can’t get enough of how totally reckless and bonkers she is. Her uncontrolled energy bursts in all directions on the title track produced by Ithaca NY rock band X Ambassadors.
I’m sure a lot of people are writing how great this album is from a body positivity standpoint; that it is great to have more vibrant black female voices. Problem with those takes is they come out of a jar ready to be spread out to fit anybody from Janelle Monae to Cardi B etc etc. Artists are specific not general so criticism should be specific.
While listening to the song you can find yourself asking questions: who would hit the high part of their register this much?! Who would open their album laughingly calling themselves a former ho?! When Pitchfork reviewed Cuz I Love You they pointed to ham fisted lines and awkward images as tough to swallow. Lizzo just doesn’t have the time or energy to go Fiona Apple with the lyrics. Her strength is that she doesn’t carry the fear a lot of us do. She’s not afraid to belt so hard she has to catch her breath, and let you hear, not afraid to say something we all know is corny like “I would do it for you all my friend, ready baby?! Will you be my man?” The desperation in the delivery and pulverizing honesty in the lyrics take center stage even as X Ambassadors fill the track with high energy pro-wrestling rock entrance music. Musically she’s so wild she’s free to be honest and in a world this deceptive and artificial it feels so good to hear.
#Bandcampgold-New Breed by Dawn
I am strangely protective of Dawn Richard place in music. I have never heard a Danity Kane song and really only got into her when she took her career by the horns solo. In casual conversation I frequently tell people she is MY Beyonce. Her dedication to dance pop is unwavering with sonic landscapes and giant sized hooks that fill every inch of space. It makes me very hostile when her newest album New Breed is not spoken about favorably. I think it is the best album of 2019 as of this date.
When I was growing up a lot of us thought dance pop was kind of dumb. Post-Ray of Light the genre moved to a template that was slick and impersonal. As a youngster I was always chasing music with individuality stamped into it. It didn’t have to be smart. Curren$y could brag about sipping a pineapple mojito as the sun sets in Milan and I was glued to the speakers. This is what New Breed gives me that makes it untouchable.
Dawn has given us ten songs about personhood. The intro (The Nine) is masterful as the first line introduces us to the street she lived on growing up showing us her watching My So-Called Life hanging out with friends. It’s only a minute and twenty four seconds with powerful vocal backing creating a chant about childhood that sets the pace for the album. The third song (Spaces) opens with her speaking to us about losing that foundation as she moved up in the ritzy circles. Everything moves and thumps as her voice shows almost unknowable form. Every second matters. The end of the song trails into a clip celebrating New Orleans. Then we get Dreams And Converse which is my favorite song of the year so far. It has bounce that she irons out into creases. Dawn can pump out dance bangers that are more fun than anyone else’s and over time as you think about them they mean more. This song is about strapping up to find your dreams. When she says “I think we should be reckless baby, don’t care if they notice, live life on the surface,” she is laying it out. Fear no ones judgement and let this music help you in that effort.
This is the paragraph where I say she hates Diddy because he ripped her off. She covers this on Vultures/Wolves. To be honest, other people care way more about that than I do. We all kind of hate/respect Diddy (loved him in Get Him To The Greek!) but we understand he is likely terrible to work for/be around. If he wasn’t, G. Dep and Carl Thomas wouldn’t have gotten used like napkins. So if you ever hear anyone who worked first hand with Diddy dissing the socks off him just nod knowingly and respect it. Take in Dawn’s Wolves and don’t feel like you need a special take, she ain’t lying.
The other favorite song I keep coming back to (besides Dreams and Converse) is Sauce. I love that the term sauce is catching fire in hip hop lingo. Flavor is so personal and Hip Hop/R & B allows flavor to shine so you can listen to Migos or Saba and its yours. You don’t have to taste any flavor you don’t like. Find your sauce. Dawn kicks down the door of the song with the opening line as the sample moans and song crackles with analog fuzz she says “It’s the weekend and I’m looking forward to you coming in more ways than you hoppin’ in your car to come and see me believe me.” She cleans her home and puts on his favorite panties. An erotic song is only really good if it makes me feel uncomfortable. This is Janet level seduction, talking about dirty sheets in a hush tone that doesn’t try hard just imposes plans. All the while the 808’s chop and the sample moans. The world of that song expands every time you hear it.
Maybe they think the reclaiming of personhood is corny. Maybe they hate her spoken word on the opening of We, Diamonds. Maybe they remember her as the Danity Kane girl and just don’t study that hard. None of it matters. My favorite flavor doesn’t have to impress opposing pallets. I just wish they could get out of it what I do.
Stream or download New Breed below:
Hivemind and the open expanse of R&B in 2018
I’m old and from Maine. In my high school I got made fun of for loving R&B music. My discman went everywhere with me so when people discovered I was listening to Smokey and The Miracles they would clown me. It’s interesting to think that the kids in dirty Red Sox hats and highwater jeans were probably listening to rock bands influenced by Motown while mocking me. When people asked if I liked Rap best (because of how I dressed) I would always rebuke with something to the effect of “I love The Blues and rap is just an extension of it.” Fast forwarding to today it looks like R & B won.
Just look at the grammy nominations for R & B v. Rock. Last two years rock nominees are still Weezer, Queens of The Stone Age, Metallica, Panic! At the Disco old names and the new ones (looking at you War On Drugs) are mad boring. R&B album nominees from that period definitely still include seasoned veterans like Mya, Mint Condition, and Bruno Mars but so many new names over the last three years especially: Daniel Caesar, BJ The Chicago Kid, Jazmine Sullivan, Andra Day, Leon Bridges. I understand we live in a society where you’ll look at that list and say “What do you mean BJ is new?! He had a hot mixtape back in 2009!” What was he doing when Queens of The Stone Age made their first appearance in 1997? Or Metallica first made noise? War On Drugs, that hot new band I was talking about, have been releasing albums together since 2008(they are the youngest band of that list I gave). In rock years that makes them babies. This is only part of the problem for a genre that has never felt more static.
The Internet (the group) is a wonderful example of the expanded space within the genre. Last year The Internet’s lead singer SYD released two solo projects: her full LP Fin and an EP Always Never Home. SYD herself said she was just using these projects to flush out fun ideas. Some of the tracks on Fin are self produced others by fellow bandmate Steve Lacy but someone knew it was going to be major because HazeBanga and Hit-Boy don’t gift everyone a beat. Solo Syd is polished urban contemporary, radio ready, sleek lyrical. When she went back to working with The Internet they created Hivemind which is chunkier, with organic drum and bass, timeless melodies that could have been from any era. The drumming is so exciting on Hivemind I immediately looked up who played it…well its Syd again. The same whispering ghost who haunted tense songs like Bad Dreams/No Looking Back in 2017 decided to smash the drums and form a song around it on Bravo. Some songs on the new album sound like a continuation of the super group Lucy Pearl (La Di Da) others like Aaliyah heading up The Roots (Wanna Be) and as free as it is it holds together. Syd writes songs with heart and vivid detail just outside of the range of people with simpler vision. She can make you live in the moment with her and feel it.
Name a new Rock band who can do that? If I’m wrong that R &B gives you more options while rock locks you into an old template what is the reason for our reality? My bias acknowledged and aside why are people with no understanding or affection for the genre forced to bask in the work of people like SZA and The Internet? Rock needs to find some space to grow and I don’t know where that is.
Bad Dream/No Looking Back from Always Never Home:
Bravo from Hivemind
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Tagged Always Never Home, best albums of 2018, blues, Fin, Hazebanga, Hit Boy, Hivemind, R & B, rock music, Steve Lacy, Syd, The Internet
EP Review-Royalty The Prequel by The Dream
Amidst all the great little R&B mixtapes that have dropped into the universe this year you won’t hear a lot about Royalty. Not for lack of interesting music, by the way, more for the emotional neediness. This is a project so very off-putting that the hits Dream can just churn out in minutes and march into the world like the grand marshall of a parade are soaked in remorse. A song like Duet which should hum with sexual energy and bravado instead feels like its mojo’s been stolen and now it just exists naked and pawing.
I’m not sure how people “like” their Dream cause I’ve always found him off-putting. The persona he created for his music was ½ R. Kelly ½ Prince and that tastes like Hummus flavored ice cream to me. Royalty clears all that crap off the table: the sunglasses inside the building, the leather jackets that look like Members Only jackets. This collection is what’s left of an insanely talented writer/performer who has suffered immense and humiliating heartbreak now he’s not letting you leave until he explains it to you.
A song like Culture could have taken the shape of simple lifestyle brag but by the end he’s begging the woman in his life to experience so much more of the worlds wonders with him. None of these songs feel like they rolled off him into a snug radio friendly hook and planned music video. Outkast is not just a bizarre but fitting homage to the group but a really well crafted overly sincere rambling pick up line. Wedding Bells sounds festive but is loaded down with baggage “My sister like hell nah she ain’t right. She ain’t your type. We ain’t right for each other…F_ It! It’s nothing. If I was perfect I’m sure it’d still be something.”
The centerpiece of Royalty is the agonizing heartbreak of Cold. The Dream takes Mobb Deep Shook Ones beat and lets his relationship tribulations all hang out. We go from the wedding we all know wont work out to its ugly conclusion(over the course of the tape) and regardless of how jarring the expedition is it’s a complete passage. By the end of Cold you won’t have any questions as to how he got where he is. Dream has so much oozing talent that as purposely grating as the subject matter can be the songs still flutter and bounce at just the right times. This weird little free EP might be my favorite piece of music he’s ever put out. It has moments that feel like the tragic middle chunk of a one man show. You stare at the narrators face as tragedy sets in and watch as that person bites down and starts to recover.
Stream or download Royalty The Prequel below: