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
The Vulnerable Layer
A lot of old school hip hop heads do a fair (or unfair) amount of complaining about pink hair tight pants and tattoos. These new kids on drugs trap beats and repeating words over and over again…are a much smaller percentage of hip hop than you might think.
I noticed this last year. Youngboy Never Broke Again dropped an incredible project called A.I. Youngboy with all the bounce and flavor of a great New Orleans Hip Hop album and has been following it ever since with searingly personal content. The mixtape that followed was called Ain’t Too Long and wasn’t nearly as fun but instead presented a Boosie level of personal introspection and meditation on loss. He has continued that on his long and very good Until Death Call My Name. At the same time from the well watched streets of Chicago Lil Durk dropped Love Songs For The Streets and it wasn’t weird at all. Durk had begun the year before that drawing the camera lens closer and closer to his actual life friends and troubles, creating a relationship with his fans unlike any other young Chicago MC. That is really what stood out about this in 2017. These two are young! Durk is 25 Youngboy is 18 and they are opening up on tracks in ways we are not used to seeing from mainstream hardcore rap hungry young mixtape people.
This year has compounded the trend. Two very good albums that traffic in staggeringly personal content from rappers born in the mid to early 90’s have dropped. The most recent is from the production mind of The Internet, one of the best groups in hip hop. After the shockingly great 2017 Syd had I was prepared for how good Patrick Paige II Letters of Irrelevance could be or at least I thought I was. The more I relisten to it the more I shake my head at the intelligent design of it. The first song is called The Best Policy where Paige declares his problems with adulthood, his abiding desire to speak the unfettered truth and it sets the stage for what he is able to accomplish. The sonic landscapes shift with a sure hand and dazzling accuracy as we go from a perfect D’Angelo recreation (Voodoo) to a slapping great time with G Perico and Sareal (on Get It With My N’s). All the while if you listen he parses real truth of his topics. The end of the album makes it unignorably resonant. His Ode to Inebriation says “I don’t need a glass man F#$* a flask drink it in just what I bought it in just like my Dad” in a tone so heartfelt and angry that it is awkward and rewarding. You watch him deal with his demons and did I mention that the song after that (The Last Letter) is to his dead Mother?
Letters of Irrelevance just came out 05/18 it will no doubt grow on me over the months to follow. The project that has come into my top 5 albums of the year through the sheer force of its personality (released in April) is Saba-Care For Me. Saba deserves all the credit in the world for devastating lyrical work from tales of his uncle on Life to savvy intellectual critique of the music industry on Grey and possibly the best lyrical song of the year in track 9 Prom/King. In seven minutes and thirty one seconds he weaves an albums worth of content together and it’s not just pain. His pen paints friendship hormones nervousness unexpected calamity and everything in between. Its life in one song and while Prom/King stands out the other songs carry a similar weight. The other people on Care For Me that deserves a ton of credit are the musicians, great bass play, guitar work and subtle keyboard work that never overload the canvas allowing Saba to flourish and deliver on the promise of his last release Bucket List Project.
If someone tells you these new kids are trash ask them if they have heard Noname, Smino, Saba, Patrick Paige II, Isiah Rashad, Kamaiyah, and the list grows everyday. This is not a generation with a lack of artistic perspective or want to experiment it is an industry that gives you what they know how to make over and over for fear deviation will cost MONEY. So if you want depth pay for it. You’ll see more of it become visible and that necessary vulnerability will nourish your playlist.
Patrick Paige II-The Last Letter
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Tagged Aint Too Long, Care For Me, hip hop, Letters of Irrelevance, Lil Durk, Love Songs For The Streets, NBA Youngboy, next generation hip hop, Patrick Paige II, rap albums 2018, Saba, Syd, The Internet, Until Death Call My Name, young rappers, Youngboy Never Broke Again
Contrasting The Unsatisfying with The Satisfying
From the first Kehlani song I heard I filed her into my head as an important person. She has world domination pipes and a real versatility to her. Her new album SweetSexySavage was built around her ability to dig into many moods and styles of R&B. She can give you a snarling stepping out of the ashes anthem in Crzy or get super radio friendly with a song like Advice. The savage end of the three part equation isn’t quite there but that’s fine. Even on a song like Do U Dirty where she is the cocksure mistress declaring intentions to do you dirty and that we should be worried….you won’t be. Kehlani doesn’t have the dangerous side someone like Rihanna has. If Rihanna said she was gonna do me dirty and that I should worry…I would be genuinely fearful of getting a lamp broken over my head or something.
Here is Kehlani Do U Dirty
If you get the deluxe edition of SweetSexySavage it is 18 songs where she is changing personas but keeping each song as big screen as it can be. Every song is a swing for the fences radio hit that nearly clears the ball park but falls in an outstretched glove. Kehlani is frantically getting dressed in different characters for the big dance, her debut album. By the time the limo gets here she is mismatched and trying too hard. It is not a bad album AT ALL. Lots of great stuff on it, but it is not satisfying.
Syd’s album Fin is another story. This is a side project from the lead singer of The Internet. They put out one of 2015’s best albums Ego Death. Fin doesn’t have nearly the stakes that Kehlani’s debut has or seek the pressure of radio domination. Fin is such a personable album with a beating heart right next to Aaliyah’s legacy. Know sounds like Aaliyah, like really does…which is something to say. So few things sound like Aaliyah. She is genuinely funny “If I go to hell hope all my B’s can visit (Nothin To Somethin’)” and impossibly personable cashing in on a mid-tempo groove with a mixture of gratitude for where she is, confidence as to what she can do, where she came from, and psychosis. She stews it so perfectly that while Kehlani forces her voice in every crevice of SweetSexySavage you can find yourself forgetting how special Syd is as a vocalist. She doesn’t go full Mariah but when she hits a beautiful moment it is striking (See: Smile More). The other times you are led by these incredible lines. My favorite song on Fin is All About Me which starts “I be more than a god in my dreams, it’s wishful thinking. I sleep more than I need to, I drink more on the weekend.” To sleep more than you need to so you can return to the dreamscape you rule which contrasts to what?! Well, I’m hooked.
Here is All About Me
Syd might be incredibly versatile as well but you get the idea that she doesn’t care whether it ends up that way. This is a side project that will be full of stuff SHE WANTS IN. “When I die my grave gon’ be my music, my soul is living through it.(All About Me)” and she says it just as casual as anything else. It’s why Fin feels so damn free.