Big Sean has made no secret of his mental health struggles, revealing earlier this year that he decided to start getting therapy. Despite his last album, ‘I Decided.’ being an inspiring journey through Sean’s mental struggle that ends on a positive note, it still left a feeling of there being more steps left that had to be taken.
‘Single Again’ is a celebration of his freedom from a relationship, a true break-up anthem. Now, Sean has dropped break-up tracks in the past in the form of ‘IDFWU’ and ‘Beware’, where he spits acerbic bars about his ex-girls. ‘Single Again’ is delivered in a completely different vein, with Sean poking fun at his past attitude in the lines, “Got me feeling like ‘I don’t f*** with you’/Oh nah, nah, that’s the old me”.
He goes on to muse, “Honestly, all the disrespect had damn near ruined me”. Despite being intensely introspective and soul-baring, the general mood of ‘Single Again’ seems positive, and not even in a trying to find the silver lining to the darkness kind of way, in a genuine way. It is uplifting to sense that Sean is making progress with himself - and this is his new focus.
The caption to the artwork is:
I’ve decided to take my time and get it right. Work on myself and wake up and smell the roses
Even the Detroit rapper’s delivery seems less fiery, and more peaceful. And to put your ex-girl on the actual song where you’re rapping about the break-up, that’s going to come up one of two ways. Either it’ll seem incredibly bitter and publicly ridiculing, or it’ll emphasise how accepting you are of how things worked out.
It’s definitely the latter, with photos of Sean and his old flame Jhené Aiko hanging out together surfacing on Instagram a couple of months ago. It’s a bold move, but it comes across as being 100% a good-hearted, and rather sweet, way of saying, ‘hey, we’re good’, as opposed to a mere publicity stunt. Sean’s new message is the antithesis of superficial.
So as a new album is readied, let’s hope Big Sean continues to get his mind right and place his wellbeing as the priority. I loved the old-school Sean party-starters, the tongue-in-cheek lyrics and ferocious rhymes. But I have to say I’m more excited than ever about the new Sean Don, where the maxim (knew I’d find a way to work that word in…!) at the heart of the music is way more important than the braggadocio and flexing.
Yours sincerely, but not too seriously,
Buy Big Sean's Last Solo Album, 'I Decided.' below
Review: Maryze, 'Like Moons EP'
Just when you think you’ve found the right box to place songstress Maryze in, she eludes your grasp once again, her sultry voice slipping through the fingers of Pop, into R&B, and then into EDM. Like Moons is impressively diverse.
The EP opens with ‘Safe’, a slow-tempo track that lulls the listener into a false sense of security. It is immersive, and easily allows you to drift away in the midst of the atmospheric production and Maryze’s ethereal, uplifting vocals about self-love.
‘B.O.Y’, which stands for ‘Because of You’, is another slow-jam, a synth driven track, with Maryze crooning wistfully before she leaves the catchy riff to breathe. It sums up the vibe so far - the lulling background provides the soft bed upon which the listener can just sit back and relax, while Maryze cuts through the haze with insightful musings.
‘Their Hearts’ and ‘Dis-Moi’ are earworms that stand side by side on the record, and highlight Maryze’s ability to amp up the drama. Her mystical, light voice invokes comparisons to Jhené Aiko, another fan of creating a dreamy ambience in her music. ‘Dis-Moi’, however, sang in French, is the song that makes you stop and really listen. For the first time we hear an edge, the frantic synth that rises up behind Maryze’s hook, mirroring the increasing tension and desperation in her voice, pleading the song’s subject to ‘Talk to me’. ‘Dis-Moi’ shifts Maryze from being really good, but perhaps flirting with predictability, to being truly dynamic and exciting. It sounds like the kind of track that could have been written for The Weeknd, and the bassline contrasts perfectly with Maryze’s high range vocals.
Maryze cuts through the haze with insightful musings
The album finishes to a slower beat, with ‘Special’ taking us back to the calmer terrain of the opening tracks. It completes the EP beautifully, with each song showcasing Maryze’s strengths and her versatility to move across genres, while staying true to her core sound. You get a clear sense of Maryze’s openness in expressing her emotions, and this vulnerability allows the listener in. She encourages you to lower your own walls, as you experience her removing hers. This is a project about being honest to yourself and others - an apt message in an era where how you appear outwardly, whether you are a celebrity or simply a social media user, for example, seems to matter more than how you really feel on the inside.
Like Moons is a meditative, tranquil 5-course-meal, throughout which invigorating flavours and warming notes create a soothing balance, the result being an undoubtedly whetted appetite for Marzye’s next release.
George Ezra, Get Away
“It's never been this way before
Shut down by anxiety"
George Ezra acknowledged in 2018 that he had been suffering with anxiety, and ‘Get Away’ tackles this issue head on. However, the overall message is an optimistic one, and highlights how when we step back and stop for a moment, we can often realise that our worries are not as significant as we once thought.
“He's dreaming of a blacked out car, screaming: "Move over!””
This line really resonates with me, because being at Uni it often feels like we’re expected to step straight onto the treadmill of suits, chai lattes, and office desk plants without giving it a second thought. Ezra contrasts the work-based aspirations of the character driving in a tinted car, with the screaming of ‘Move over!’ hinting at the more fast-paced and stressed out lifestyle this can entail. He contrasts this with the following line,
“He’ll be flying through the sugar canes, screaming: “Move over!”
While the line is almost the same, the picture it paints is of a much more carefree person, out in nature, and the ‘Move over!’ sounds more like a child that is keen to continue their race through the fields.
“And I'm running down a mountain side when I close my eyes
And I'm a leader of a big brass band when I close my eyes”
Ezra continues to provide more fun and wide-eyed fantasies, showing us the scope of his imagination. This links back to his idea that modern generations can become ‘shut down by anxiety’. It is interesting looking at this from a student's perspective, because often I'll devote a lot of my day-to-day thinking time to degree-related worries, such as 'Am I going to get this essay finished?', 'Have I read enough?', 'Does my tutor think I'm stupid?'
But then as soon as the weekend hits, and I have a day or two off, there's a really weird feeling of confusion. During the week there's been all these small, work-related distractions, so when I stop working and these distractions disappear, all the bigger, existential questions start flooding into my head. 'What am I going to do with my life after Uni?'... 'Am I really happy studying like this?'... 'What do my friends think of me?'...
Then, because these questions are uncomfortable, I inevitably start filling my mind with the smaller distractions again, and the cycle continues.
"You better get away, boy
You better get away"
I feel like George Ezra isn't just talking about taking a vacation (although that often helps!), he means stepping back from the hustle and bustle of our daily lives, and finding time to just be present, to be in the moment. It's the constant chasing our tails and finding distractions that leads to the feeling I mentioned earlier, where when all the distractions are gone, we're not really sure what to do with ourselves, and we feel a bit empty.
I guess for me personally, the message I receive from these lyrics is to stop trying to find distractions, and just appreciate each moment. And confront the uncomfortable questions. Don't run from them, tackle them head on and see how they can be dealt with - if there is nothing we can do about it right now, then it's irrelevant. If there is a solution, then make a plan for attaining that solution.
How to Worry Less #1 - Confront your problems, know your enemy
In 'The Art of Happiness', the Dalai Lama likens training your mind to deal with problems to preparing an army for battle. If you confront the enemy, learn their strengths, their weaknesses, and their tactics, then you are in a much better position to defeat them. By contrast, if you bury your head in the sand and simply hope the enemy will be defeated, you are in a much less advantageous position. Know your enemy - and know your problems.
"Any boy can dream, dream of anything
Just like you"
Like I said before, George Ezra's overarching message is one of optimism. It seems the way we are told to look at the world, our careers, our lives, makes us forget to open our minds to the more wondrous possibilities out there. We are told to look at the options as being A, B, and C, where for example, A is University, B is an Internship, and C is an Apprenticeship. But sometimes looking at life in this fixed way, and looking through the lens that society has nudged us in front of, we miss a whole host of possibilities.
Who says that the only routes we can take are A, B, and C. What about X, Y, and Z? Or 1, 2, and 3? I feel like George Ezra’s message here is to keep your mind open, and don’t get bogged down in worrying about the little things, like what car you’re driving or how late you are for that 9am meeting. Life is obviously about more than that.
How to Worry Less #2 - Keep your mind open
When you close your eyes, are you driving the blacked out car, or flying through the sugar canes?
Yours sincerely, but not too seriously,
Has record label-rejecting, humanitarian and activist Chance the Rapper gone commercial with his new album?
It seems ludicrous to even pose the question. Throughout Chance’s entire career, despite the fairly widespread fame he accumulated after releasing just one mixtape, 10 Days, which was written during a period of expulsion from his school, he has steadfastly rejected the advances of record label CEOs.
His second mixtape, Acid Rap, brought him into the mainstream musical consciousness, before Coloring Book and a coveted feature on Kanye West’s The Life Of Pablo propelled him into rapstar status. All still while Chance was independent.
Since then Chance has become a major humanitarian figure, earning praise from world-leaders such as Barack Obama, donating $1million to Chicago Public Schools, and being actively involved in tackling gun violence, homelessness and racial equality in Chicago. When he broke onto the scene, his brand of conscious rap was heralded as the antithesis to the Chief Keef instigated drill movement, which was characterised by its aggressive and nihilistic lyrics.
In today’s LA-fuelled music industry, where artists’ eyes seem to be clouded by dollar signs, Instagram followers and merch sales, Chance the Rapper serves as the stereotype subverting superhero (wow, that was a mouthful) who has charged onto the scene in the name of art and philanthropy.
How could anyone doubt his motives as being anything but pure and incredibly refreshing?
The only reason anyone would have to think such a thing, is that Chance recently released all of his projects onto streaming services. Along with this, he has an online store newly stocked up with clothing, vinyls and hats publicising all of his projects, the purchases of which includes the download of his upcoming album.
This linking of an album download with merchandise is a well-known marketing strategy, perfected last year by Travis Scott. His use of the technique was famously criticised by Nicki Minaj, who claimed it was the reason he beat her to Number 1. DJ Khaled, Quavo and many others have employed the tactic, and it seems to have become the strategic norm in boosting record sales.
The fact that Chance has maintained such a squeaky clean persona over his career so far, might have led fans to presume he would not get involved in such PR methods, and would simply let the music do the talking. Does the fact that he has succumbed to this temptation, mean he has gone back on the principles that made him such a beloved, sunny feature in hip hop’s increasingly murky landscape?
I really don’t think so. While critics may suggest otherwise, in my opinion this is simply a man who wants to try his best to get his album to Number 1. He has spoken in the past of his slight frustration that, because he has not released his projects to regular, paid streaming services, he hasn’t always received the recognition he deserves.
This might sound odd coming from someone with three Grammys, but I wouldn’t say this is vanity. I think Chance just wants the credit where it’s due, and if he has to play by the rules of label-style advertising and marketing in order to get this, then so be it. It must feel a bit weird to be an artist of the status of Chance the Rapper, and to not yet have had a Number 1 album. The consensus is fairly unanimous in saying that if Coloring Book hadn’t been released as a streaming-only project, it would have done far better than the Number 8 spot it climbed to on the Billboard charts. And if a unanimous consensus wasn’t enough, then surely this glowing review on my old blog was…!
Despite some people viewing a Number 1 single with disdain nowadays, and many of them do end up being mere flashes in the pan, a Number 1 album is still a highly revered feat. So regardless of the financial benefits, which are obviously aplenty, it is incredibly prestigious. At the very least, it’s a pretty darn cool story to tell the grandchildren.
So let’s not view Chance the Rapper through the same eye as we would another, more commercially minded artist (DJ Khaled shouting ‘Still in the Meeting!’ on yet another Instagram post springs to mind), and respect Chance’s wishes to make his album do as well as it possibly can.
We all like a bit of praise and appreciation every now and then. Does it make Chance any less of a good person if he simply wants the same?
Yours sincerely, but not too seriously,
The Critic: Jaden Smith seems to occupy a peculiar space in modern Hip-Hop. Most people have heard of him, but almost none have actually heard him. He has inevitably so far stood in the megastar-sized shadow of his father, Will Smith, and the mediocre success he has enjoyed is, perhaps unfairly, dismissed by cynics as being a result of Will. On ‘ERYS’, Jaden makes a mockery of them.
It is heavily experimental, and the plot of Jaden being some kind of futuristic drug dealer who sells a mind controlling substance called ‘Pink’ to the world, and everyone subsequently degenerates into masses of zombies, is wacky to say the least. It’s interesting, but I wouldn’t say that when I listen to the album, it’s a story that can be easily gleaned from the obtuse lyrics.
The opening track is peppered with left-field musings such as, “The gold and diamonds could dissolve his pride”. It’s the sort of whimsical statement I put in my University philosophy essays to try and con my tutors into thinking I’m cleverer than I actually am.
But Jaden never comes across as someone who is trying to pull the wool over anyone’s eyes. As a whole, his plot makes sense, and he deserves respect for providing us with often witty lyrics that do not succumb to the Hip Hop stereotypes of sex, money and drugs. Of course, such references make their appearances, but as a whole this album plays with a higher purpose than merely flexing and impressing the listener.
It is deep, but also kind of accessible. The spacey production, vocal distortions and mercurial features come together to form a project packed full of beautiful moments, with each off-kilter idea improving the overall effect of the album. Some artists experiment for the sake of experimenting, and even use this to hide their actual lack of originality, with the only result being music that is nigh impossible to make any sense of.
Jaden is not one of these artists. Admittedly, it could be argued that his auto-tuned, emo rap style is heavily derivative of Kid Cudi and Travis Scott. There are definitely moments, particularly when rapping alongside Cudi on ‘On My Own’, where it is apparent where Jaden gets a lot of his inspiration from. His outlandish, self-assured antics coupled with the twitchy, euphoric nature of some ‘ERYS’ tracks provoke easy comparisons with Kanye West. Equally, Jaden’s move to regularly opt for soul-baring laments over braggadocious bars could render him a student of the Drake school of Hip Hop.
But what is this really to say? Quite frankly, 80% of rappers in today’s charts have drawn stylistic influences from at least one of Kid Cudi, Kanye and Drake. Jaden is in his own lane, and that lane sounds pretty darn good.
Some artists experiment for the sake of experimenting...Jaden is not one of these artists
The Fan: My favourite three rappers are undoubtedly Kanye, Travis Scott and Drake, so to see Jaden combining numerous strands of these artists’ styles, and then putting his own stamp on the resulting concoction obviously plays right into my hands (or my ears, I guess…).
I love experimentation in rap, but often artists such as Tyler, the Creator, Daniel Caesar and Frank Ocean are a little too introspective and cryptic for me to really get on their wavelength.
I feel like Jaden strikes the perfect balance here between being innovative and being intelligible to the listener. Oh, and there’s also the small matter of it sounding awesome - you can turn up to the electric, hard-hitting rhymes of some songs, and then wallow in the fragile sorrow of other tracks.
Standout Track: ‘Summertime in Paris’
Hidden Diamond: ‘K’
Yours sincerely, but not too seriously,
The critic vs the fan
I don’t know about you, but whenever I listen to new music, there are two voices in my head.
Considering there is usually just the one, and that one voice is more often than not preoccupied with repeating the phrase ‘I’m hungry’ all day, this struck me as odd.
When I’m there with my headphones or speaker playing out the latest track from a hip hop heavyweight, or perhaps a country megastar, the first voice is always my initial reaction.
This is ‘The Fan’ in me, who is a sucker for an electrifying beat and a blistering hook.
Preferably, if it’s hip hop, I like a good helping of auto-tuned emo-rap, or if it’s something more poppy or country, then just a simple earworm of a chorus and some warm, nostalgic lyrics will do the job nicely. ‘The Fan’ knows exactly what he likes, and can usually tell within the first few lines of a song whether it fits the bill or not.
Then there’s the second voice - ‘The Critic’.
Obviously in running this blog, and in having worked as Music Editor for various student newspapers, if I let ‘The Fan’ do all the talking, then it would result in some very biased reviews. ‘The Critic’ is that voice inside us that we all have whenever we make a decision or judgement call. It’s the voice that coughs a little disapproving ‘ahem’ whenever we reach for that tenth chocolate bar, or that sighs as we opt to watch yet another episode of Black Mirror instead of working on that essay due in for tomorrow.
It might seem strange that this voice pops up when I’m listening to music, as surely there is no real right or wrong in terms of what we listen to - if you enjoy it, go for it, if you don’t, then feel free to steer clear, right? But donning the prestigious title of ‘Music Writer’ (I swear they should give me some letters after my name for that) generally means adhering to the assumption that there is some objective standard of which music is good and which is not so good. Otherwise, why should anyone take any notice as to whether the New York Times’ top Music Writer says a new album is great, or that it’s terrible?
Having said this, personally I think music is clearly subjective, and I think most would agree with this. How else can you explain the fervent adulation given by some fanbases to Kanye West, and of others to AC/DC? Of course, certain artists such as The Beatles or Elvis Presley are generally accepted to have made ‘good music’, and few would contend with this.
So it’s a bit of a murky picture - which voice should I listen to more? ‘The Fan’ who immediately streams anything that Travis Scott so much as breathes on, or ‘The Critic’, who hears ‘The Fan’’s snap judgment, but asks, ‘You might like it, but is it actually good?’
So from now on I’m going to split some of my reviews into two sections. The first part will be ‘The Critic’ speaking, and will generally be how I would go to write a standard article. The second part will be space for ‘The Fan’ to let his opinions run wild.
I’ll leave it up to you to decide whose tastes you prefer, and whether we should generally listen to ‘The Fan’ within us, or ‘The Critic’…
Stay tuned for my next review, on Jaden’s ‘ERYS’, which will be posted in the next few days.
Yours sincerely, but not too seriously,
This morning Ed dropped the album we’ve been waiting on since ‘I Don’t Care’ with Justin Bieber set up camp at number one. There was an incredible amount of hype and promo, something Ed usually doubles down on, letting the music do the talking. Did this and the star studded line up mean Ed was finally succumbing to the temptations of being a more commercial, and less authentic artist?
Well rest assured you can suspend any worries about this being an album merely riding a wave of publicity - in fact, suspend all worries altogether. Just sit back, relax, and embrace the hits. Because that’s what this album is, it’s basically 15 number ones jam-packed into a single project.
I’ll be surprised if ‘South of the Border’, which features Camilla Cabello and Cardi B, isn’t atop the charts come the end of the day. Yes, this could probably happen on the basis of the star-studded credits alone, but don’t let this take away from how good a song this is. It’s an ear worm that will wriggle its way in and stay there for the whole day. All the tracks on this project are Ed Sheeran masterclasses in how to write the perfect hit song - and apparently, there are 15 different ways to do this.
‘Antisocial’ is a personal favourite, with Ed’s golden melodies combining forces with Travis Scott’s mercurial rhrymes, producing an alloy that is somehow both icy cold and blisteringly hot at the same time. This was confirmed to be the next single, and the hilarious video dropped earlier today.
This project is eclectically beautiful
Despite all the glitz and glamour of the cast-list, there is a refreshing theme of rejecting fame’s traditional values. On ‘Beautiful People’, Ed presents the Hollywood lifestyle in a negative light, crooning ‘Pre-nups and broken homes/Surrounded, but still alone/Let’s leave the party’. Similarly, on ‘I Don’t Care’, he muses, ‘Don’t think I fit in at this party/Everyone’s got so much to say’.
I listened to this expecting a reel of hits, and to some extent that is what I got. However there is definitely a darker undertone that is threaded through the bouncy tracks, covering themes of insecurity and loneliness that one perhaps wouldn’t assume the world-dominating Ed Sheeran would struggle with. This is what makes it all the more moving though, with ‘Best Part of Me’ with YEBBA being an emotional highlight. He confesses, ‘I bite my nails and tell the truth, I go from thin to overweight/Day to day it fluctuates’, before asking his lover, ‘Why the hell do you love me? ‘Cause I don’t even love myself’.
Ed has obviously had his fair share of touching, soul-baring tracks in the past, such as ‘Lego House’ and ‘Small Bump’. But now that he is more associated with the upbeat party-starters, epitomised by his more recent hits ‘Sing’, ‘Shape of You’ and ‘Galway Girl’, the open fragility on this album is accentuated. This project is eclectically beautiful, making you want to jump up and dance one minute, then the next minute it has you reaching for a box of tissues.
‘Remember the Name’ is an old school Hip Hop anthem, with Ed Sheeran excitedly professing his wish for a song with 50 Cent and Eminem in the first verse. What follows? A song with 50 Cent and Eminem, and an instant classic at that.
Hip Hop and R&B weave in and out of the album, and compliment Ed Sheeran’s energetic vocals brilliantly. On ‘Take Me Back to London’, the UK hit maker shows off his rapping skills, going bar for bar with London’s primary grime export, Stormzy. His lightning quick rhymes and witty lyrics put the mumble rapping Lil Pumps and Lil Uzis of today’s charts to shame.
But what’s great about this album is it doesn’t feel like Ed is in competition with anyone, nor has anything to prove. It feels totally free, and plays like a passion project that he genuinely really wanted to make. The interviews he’s done suggest the ‘No.6 Collaborations Project’ is just that. It’s Ed and his friends doing what they love - making music.
I guess it’s fortunate for us listeners (and for his record label) that Ed Sheeran’s friendship circle happens to resemble an illustrious musical pantheon. Commercial success aside, this is easily one of my favourite Ed Sheeran albums already, and it’s only been out for a few hours. On it, he reminds us why he is not only the best hit maker out there right now, but that he is also the best emoter and storyteller.
Stream Ed Sheeran's new album on all services, or purchase the CD below
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?