Lyric of the Week - Florida Georgia Line, People Are Different
"Slip on a pair of another man's shoes
You'll see by the time you get back
This old world would be a whole lot better place
If we'd all just embrace the fact
That people are different"
The country duo speak the truth. If anything, it's sad they even have to say it, but in this odd world where we still seem to struggle to accept one another, you can't blame them for re-iterating. A similar theme was covered in my Self Help Songs post on 6lack's Switch - check it out here.
Album Cover of the Week - Dave, Psychodrama
An album cover of a guy with his head set on fire? Yawn, seen it all before. But an album cover of a guy with his head set on blue fire? THAT. IS. AWESOME. For those of you wanting depth, you'd better move swiftly onto Song Title of the Week, because I chose Dave's Psychodrama on the basis of one criterion: it looks pretty darn cool. It's quite sparse and basic, but in a minimalist, artsy, electro-future-fire-mutant kind of way. And I like the colour blue.
Song Title of the Week - Drake, Lust for Life
An homage to the great Van Gogh's biography, this title on Drake's recently re-released So Far Gone mixtape is succinct, meaningful and evocative. The fact that this was the career-defining mixtape, one that dropped as Drake stood on the brink of his destiny to become the biggest rapper in the world, only serves to add to the poignance. Drake eventually got the life he so publicly lusted after - just maybe not the woman (but what was there not to love, Nicki?).
Music Video of the Week -
James Blake- Mile High (feat. Travis Scott and Metro Boomin)
Trippy and, perhaps a little guilty of self-indulgence, but nonetheless it's fun to watch, and matches the mood of the track perfectly. The video starts with Travis Scott's confused face disappearing into a tunnel of blackness as he tries to wake Blake up, before we become immersed in the UK artist's mind, which, spoiler alert, exclusively features himself and Travis Scott swirling around aimlessly. Hey, I'm not judging, 'aimless thoughts' sounds a lot like the inside of my mind. Like I said, the video's a tad over-the-top, but maybe that's what makes it so entertaining.
So these are my Aesthetics of the Week! Feel free to let me know of any good lyrics, titles, covers or videos I may have missed...
Yours sincerely, but not too seriously,
P.S. If you're looking to buy the Aesthetics of the Week:
There was a time when an offer to perform on the Grammys stage was one of the most coveted honours in music, where if the Grammys adjudicators deemed you an artist worthy of showcasing, then you’d made it. It was the seal of approval most musicians pined for.
But today’s awards ceremony is very different to how it once was. Two of the biggest artists of the day, Kendrick Lamar and Drake, both rejected opportunities to perform; Song of the Year and Music Video of the Year winner Childish Gambino didn’t turn up; and neither did the industry’s power couple Jay-Z and Beyoncé.
Notably, most of the artists that continually turn their noses up at the Grammys operate in the Hip Hop arena. This is partly because the genre has quickly become the biggest in the US, with Nielsen Music’s report suggesting 8 out of the 10 most streamed artists in the world are rappers. However, this surge has arguably not been mirrored by the genre’s award tallies, with the Grammys coming under fire for its problem acknowledging artists of colour, as well as consistently under-representing women. Clear attempts were made this year to shine the spotlight on female artists, with Kacey Musgraves winning Best Album and Dua Lipa winning Best New Artist.
But Hip Hop continued its troubled relationship with the industry’s most prestigious awards ceremony, with the biggest incident of the night arriving during Drake’s acceptance speech for Best Song. Instead of thanking the adjudicators (whoever those mysterious people are) for choosing ‘God’s Plan’ as the winner, he criticised the very existence of the Grammys. He addressed the crowd, “I want to let you know we're playing in an opinion-based sport, not a factual-based sport”, before elaborating, “Look, if there's people who have regular jobs who are coming out in the rain, in the snow, spending their hard earned money to buy tickets to come to your shows, you don't need this right here. I promise you, you already won.”
Half of this speech was ‘accidentally’ cut off, so that viewers didn’t get to see it, but it seems like Drake had a point. Although it may appear a little paradoxical for a music critic to claim that we are wrong to judge music, I think the Canadian rapper is right in that we cannot really take an objective approach, and the eclecticism that expresses itself through people’s music tastes highlights this. You’d be hard-pressed to sit a Heavy Metal fanatic opposite a Jazz connoisseur and get them to agree as to which is the ‘better’ form of art. By the same token, it seems futile for some unbiased umpire to conclude Jazz as superior to Heavy Metal, or vice versa. They’re just different, not necessarily better or worse. You could argue that the charts are this independent referee, so to speak, as the more popular a song is, the better it must be. But how come critics so frequently give an album a very bleak review, yet it subsequently leaps to number one in the charts? Whose opinion should we trust more? We can only really talk in terms of preference, rather than quality, and this is the notion Drake was trying to convey.
Can we compare Travis Scott’s Sicko Mode to Mozart’s 21st Symphony? Can we rate Tracey Emin’s ‘Unmade Bed’ higher or lower than Dali’s ‘Lobster Telephone’? Can we even judge songs within the same genre to be better than others, or is it always going to be a matter of personal palate? Some Hip Hop heads might be obsessed with the Migos, while others will complain they are garbage compared to the old guard of 2pac and the Notorious B.I.G.
So really, who are the Grammys to say that Childish Gambino had a ‘better’ song than Lady Gaga, or Shawn Mendes? How can they profess such insight as to be able to do what nobody else seems able to do, and rank music, not only within genres, but across genres. Perhaps Drake summed it up perfectly in saying, "This is a business where sometimes it's up to a bunch of people who might not understand what a mixed race kid from Canada has to say or a fly Spanish girl from New York or anybody else, or a brother from Houston right there, my brother Travis [Scott]. But my point is you've already won if you have people singing your songs word for word, if you're a hero in your hometown.”
Music is made for the public and for the fans, it’s not aimed at critics or Grammys adjudicators. By the same token, for me to talk of ‘good music’, it should really just be interchangeable with ‘music that I like’. This isn’t a fact-based sport, it’s an opinion-based one - your playlist is your pantheon of Grammy winners.
So I guess that leaves me awarding Travis Scott the Best Metal Performance, Drake the Best New Age Album, and Future the Best Jazz Vocal Album. Who knew Hip Hop was so versatile?
Yours sincerely, but not too seriously,
Avicii, 'The Nights'
“He said, one day you'll leave this world behind
So live a life you will remember
My father told me when I was just a child
These are the nights that never die”
I think it’s a testament to the selflessness that pervades the late Swedish DJ’s music, that he wove a constant theme of ‘Carpe Dium’ throughout his catalogue, despite clearly struggling to overcome his own struggles to find happiness. Maybe this is what motivated him so fervently to provide his listeners with an approach to help them find their own joy. Either way, Avicii’s ‘The Nights’ is the epitome of what my Self-Help Songs series is all about.
“One day my father he told me
Son, don't let it slip away
He took me in his arms, I heard him say
When you get older
Your wild heart will live for younger days
Think of me if ever you're afraid”
It may sound corny to call an EDM track my favourite song of all time, especially considering my overwhelming love for Hip Hop, but ‘The Nights’ is a definite contender for my personal top spot. Its tale of a father telling his son not to waste his life and to chase his dreams reminds me of the mentality my dad has always tried to instil in me. I remember playing this song to him a few years back, and he immediately fell in love with it too - despite in no way being a fan of Electronic Dance Music. The music video only serves to drive home the valuable message, with professional life-liver Rory Kramer giving us a snapshot into the rip-roaring adventures he has always been inspired to embark on. My dad still sends me texts at University saying ‘Remember - these are the Nights!’, (admittedly usually accompanied by a few random emojis!). But sometimes I feel like I do need this reminder to try and make the most of this moment. It seems adults spend half their time telling us that ‘Oh, life does go by quickly, and before you know it you’ll be old and wishing you’d made more of your youth’. Ugh, whatever, is the standard response, occasionally followed by a roll of the eyes.
It’s true though, and I think we all know this deep down. I mean, it feels like I only started my Oxford journey last month, but already I’m going to Halfway Hall, signifying I’ve officially made it through half of my three year degree. Time does fly by, and one day we will leave this world behind, despite my childhood attempts to reject this notion and believe in the possibility of immortality (part of me is still tempted to go and freeze myself for a few centuries until a cure for death has been made, but I guess I’ll need to commit a little more than part of myself in order for that to work!). I’m as guilty as anyone of looking forward all the time, planning ahead, thinking of where I want to be in five, ten years. I think this is partly a symptom of our education system, and how there is always an objective, a goal we are preparing for, whether this be GCSEs, A-Levels, Prelims or Finals, and we believe that once we get past the next target we can start living as we want to. But life is one long string of targets, and I feel like it’s easy to focus so hard on that next deadline, that upcoming holiday, and that job promotion that’s a couple of years off, that you eventually find that you’ve wished years of your life away.
So following on from my last Self-Help Songs post on Zac Brown Band, I think that while it’s important and inspiring to set goals, at the same time we have to remember to just appreciate this night, this day, this moment, without thinking of what comes next. It’s that cheesy old slogan that’s now emblazoned across every iPhone case, laptop screensaver and River Island t shirt - 'Carpe Dium'. It’s a painfully overused cliche - but at the same time, it’s undoubtedly true. Because in reality, we only ever experience life in the present, so I guess you could say that the future never arrives. So why put your emphasis on something uncertain, when you could be putting your energy into making the most of the what is right in front of you? After all, these are ‘The Nights’ (unless you’re in Australia, in which case - these are ‘The Days’!)
“When thunderclouds start pouring down
Light a fire they can't put out
Carve your name into those shining stars”
How to Live Without Regrets #1 - Seize the Day
How to De-Stress #1 - Slow Down
So you’ve heard it a million times. Yes, ok, we get it. The world we live in moves at too fast a pace. But quite frankly, what are we supposed to do about it. I’ve got an essay in for tomorrow, an internship application to sort out and lots of baying blog followers to please with a steady flow of posts. Well, maybe the last one was a bit of an exaggeration, but still, it seems easy to just tell people they’ve got too much going on without providing an actual solution to it.
I feel like this song gets to the crux of the matter in a really simple, convincing way. ‘No Hurry’ is about (spoiler alert) slowing down, and just taking a moment to breathe. Because in this day and age, we do have a million things to think about. Certainly at University, any moment you take off essay reading, or essay writing, or essay checking (pfft, like anyone actually does that), you feel kind of guilty for not spending it on work. But this shouldn’t be how we feel, life isn’t just about work. It’s just as important to stop and chill every once in a while, otherwise the bundle of impending deadlines and doom pile up in your mind until you reach breaking point. Personally, my mind often feels like its moving too fast for me to keep up, so that when I’m sat working on my CV I’m thinking that I should be working on my degree, but when I’m writing an essay I’m thinking I should be working on my CV.
So the jury is still out after my first attempt at being a psychic. One of my predictions was given hope recently when Quavo admitted the Migos have a huge store of Drake collaborations, which could eventually form an album. Wahoo! I can now profess myself to be the next Mystic Meg - I’ll call myself Mystic Max.
Well, you’re probably thinking one out of three predictions is not really enough to warrant a second round of trying to guess what will happen in the music industry. And lets be honest, it’s more like 0.5 out of three, if that. I should’ve just stuck with predicting that Travis will offer me a record deal, the only real dead cert.
Nonetheless, I’m back behind my proverbial crystal ball, and I’m looking at some potential new Hip Hop releases. In this day and age, the beauty of pre-ordering and pre-adding albums means there is little in the form of surprise releases in the pop world. For some reason, though, it is often the case that you wake up on New Music Friday to an unexpected Lil Yachty mixtape, and maybe a couple more Future albums that he recorded in one evening. It is perhaps because of the breakneck pace at which new Hip Hop music is packaged and produced that we get so many surprise drops from this genre. I can imagine Atlantic’s PR department pulling their hair out when Gucci Mane keeps popping up in their office with a new album, having only just started promo for his previous one. But in many ways it must be a bonus having the ability to flood the market, especially in this era of dipping your toes into the stream of a track, and then before you know it they’ve disappeared and a different set of songs are flowing past. I guess Heraclitus got it right when he said, ‘You can’t stand in the same river twice’.
As I see that I’ve just listened to the same Travis Scott song three times in a row, I realise that perhaps I should leave the philosophy to my weekly essays. Anyway, I think I’ve procrastinated enough (again, I should leave that to my essays). It’s time for my predictions as to who will be releasing new fire this week. Or this month. Or this year. Is it too vague to say at some point in the rest of their career…?
1. Big Sean
The Detroit MC has been oddly quiet over the past year, enjoying the spoils of his successful I Decided. album (which I reviewed on my old blog). But photos of him in the studio with Hit-Boy hint at an imminent return to the fore, and over the past week I’ve had a sudden urge to stream a load of his best songs on Apple Music. Coincidence? Um, most definitely. However, something still tells me he’s dropping something soon…
2. Young Thug
Why would Thugger drop a project so soon after his On The Run EP, which only came out a couple of months ago? Well, Young Thug has a work ethic that more than matches that of his trap counterpart, Future, and judging from the way the stars have been arranging themselves recently, and the astronomical calculations I have made from this, I think Young Thug is preparing some new music for us. Ok, ok, I’ll admit it’s just a hunch. But watch this space - no solar system-based pun intended...
3. Zac Brown Band
So this is more of a wish than a prediction. Zac Brown Band is one of my favourite artists, and having recently announced a summer tour (which sadly does not involve a trip to the UK, ugh), I feel like they must surely have a single or two up their sleeves to help promote it. They must do, right? Right?? Considering they usually tour off the back of an album, and this one is called ‘The Owl’ tour, maybe we can expect a new project of the same name? Hopefully…
So while I spend the next few weeks waiting on the Migos and Drake collaboration, as well as that inevitable phone call from Travis' Cactus Jack Records, I'll be frantically refreshing the 'New Music' section of Apple Music, to see if any of these predictions prove to be more fruitful than the last batch. Fingers crossed, and excuses at the ready...
Yours sincerely, but not too seriously,
Is Hip Hop no longer a genre?
This may seem like the least relevant question I could possibly ask, given that over the past five years Hip Hop has surged up the charts to become the leading genre across all streaming platforms. It is currently in the purplest of patches, with Drake and Kendrick Lamar now consistently leading the nominations across the biggest award shows.
However, the increase in rattling hi-hats and booming bass streaming down our headphones is partly due to Hip Hop’s malleability as a genre. Pop songs frequently feature a verse from a rapper, and have done since the early 2000s, while the introduction of Auto-Tune has led numerous Hip Hop artists to lend their vocals or a production credit to Alternative, Electronic, Rock and World songs.
But is this genre blurring specific only to Hip Hop, or is this something that can be seen across all genres? It is certainly not exclusively applicable to Hip Hop, with plenty of novel cross genre collaborations hitting the top of the charts, such as Country and EDM. But undoubtedly the most prominent of these, as well as perhaps the most unusual, involve Hip Hop. Who would have foreseen that Essex’s Charlie-Charmer Olly Murs would come together with West Coast gangster rapper Snoop Dogg on their recent hit Moves? Or that Stevie Wonder would agree to play the flute on Travis Scott’s Stop Trying to Be God?
A lot of these partnerships can be put down to record label manoeuvring, with the two artists often recording their pieces separately and never actually meeting. Certainly in the case of more commercial pop hits, this seems to nearly always be the case. However, Hip Hop seems to spark unlikely but genuine friendships. Elton John, for example, is a self-professed Young Thug superfan, combining forces with the Atlanta warbler on his recent High remix of John’s Rocket Man. Stevie Wonder and Travis Scott did actually meet, as proven in a very staged ‘Oh look who I bumped into’ photo on the latter’s Instagram. But they met, nonetheless.
The success of James Blake’s new album, Assume Form, was partly propelled by features from Hip Hop super-producer Metro Boomin and the aforementioned Travis Scott. Blake’s style tiptoes around the fringes of alternative and electronic music, his sound distinguishable by its contrasting ambient warmth and falsetto chills. Scott wades into Blake’s sonic universe with ease, providing a clear, downcast anchor in amongst the whirling, euphonic fog surrounding him. Personally, I think Blake often lacks this lucidity to counter the wavering, fleeting melodies that permeate his other works, and perhaps this is why Hip Hop comes into its element when complimenting an artist from another genre. Its directness and ferocity often lights up a track that is otherwise in need of a lift. Tranquil synths and dreamy pop vocals are the taste of the day, with Ariana Grande, Swae Lee, Halsey and newcomer Summer Walker all perpetuating this style. This works brilliantly on isolated tracks and brief chart-toppers, but this ambience can often struggle, in my view, to sustain the listener’s interest over an entire album. It works if you are on the right vibe, but the truth is you rarely stay in the mood for the hour it takes to digest an album of this ilk. A rap verse keeps the listener guessing, and gives hardcore fans of the featured artist a reason to stick with the song through to the end.
So now that Hip Hop has clambered to the top of the musical pedestal, albeit partly through a few helpful leg-ups from cross-genre features and the odd guest verse, can we expect it to stay there? Or will it be usurped by another mercenary genre leapfrogging its way to the top? Perhaps Country stars Florida Georgia Line’s collaboration with Pop’s Bebe Rexha, and Zac Brown Band’s venture into EDM with the late Avicii, are precursors to a Top 40 dominated by Nashville?
In reality, I think Hip Hop is here to stay for the next couple of years. Young Thug, Travis Scott and, most recently, Future, have all honed a sound that perfectly combines the spacey with the hard-hitting and fierce. If they can just add a little more depth to their lyrics, I think their armoury will be very difficult to defeat. But nonetheless, I’ll keep my checked shirt and cowboy hat at the ready, just in case…
Originally published at www.phasermagazine.com
Hello! I'm currently studying Philosophy & Theology at Oxford University, UK. Having always loved writing and music in equal measure, and having always hated decision-making, I figured hey, why do I need to choose between the two?