It's clear that we often lean heavily on music when we are going through something. It has the powerful ability to lift you up, to relax your mind, or to simply let you know you're not alone in your struggle.
Of course, usually music alone is no remedy to the troubles we face, but it can be helpful nonetheless. Different people can draw out different meanings from various sets of lyrics, such is the subjective beauty of art.
The following is a selection of hand-picked lyrics that are aimed specifically at easing your worries and allaying your fears. Some may become new cri de coeurs, some may simply wash over you without having much effect. But hopefully in shining a spotlight on particularly useful lyrics, there will be at least one that will really resonate with you...
Don't you worry, don't you worry, child/See Heaven's got a plan for you
1. Swedish House Mafia, Don't You Worry Child
You don't have to believe in Heaven, or be religious at all for that matter, to appreciate this. Personally the message I gain from this is that no matter how low you are feeling, or how difficult it may be right now, in the long run you will always be okay. I have a saying that I'm always annoying my friends with - 'Even when it doesn't go to plan, it does'. This could be God's plan (shoutout Drake...), the Universe's plan, or simply your ultimate plan for your life. In the end, the struggle makes you who you are.
Oh, my darlin', put your worries on me/Can't judge you 'cause I feel the same thing
2. Ed Sheeran, Put It All On Me feat. Ella Mai
I really like this one, because it sounds fairly generic at first, but peering deeper into it reveals a significant message. For me, it's the idea that it's okay to ask someone for help when you're going through something. Don't be too prideful or too ashamed to lean on other people. There's a good chance they're going through something similar.
Have a look at my review of Ed Sheeran's 'No.6 Collaborations Project' here
Ain't in no hurry, I'd be a fool now to worry/About all those things I can't change
3. Zac Brown Band, No Hurry
This is the central Zac Brown Band mantra of 'Que sera sera', and to not let things that are out of your control get you down. If you have a problem, address it, and if there is a solution go about achieving it. If there is no solution, then leave it behind. It's irrelevant.
Check out a more detailed look at No Hurry in this Self-Help Songs post
Everything that's broke, leave it to the breeze/Why don't you be you, and I'll be me?
4. James Bay, Let It Go
This is a great quote, because it echoes the previous notion of letting things that are out of your control go. Often we can torment ourselves over what could have been, or what we should have done. "Leave it to the breeze", and don't be stuck in the past. Also, this takes on another meaning in the sense of what you might see as 'broken' parts of your personality or appearance. Just be yourself - we hear it time and time again, but it's true. Why be someone you're not, when you're awesome just the way you are (shoutout Bruno Mars...)
Today I missed my workout, but it worked out/Now I'm missing work now, but it worked out
5. Chance the Rapper, Work Out
Okay, this seems like a random quote to have included. But it resonates with me quite strongly, because I think we can overthink the details of our lives, and be too hard on ourselves when we don't match up to our expectations. It's great to be disciplined and driven, but cut yourself some slack - don't be too hard on yourself (shoutout Jess Glynne...okay, I'm going to stop with all the cross-referencing now...!). Also, remember to have fun! Charlie Hoehn wrote a great article about how 'Play' cured his anxiety, read that here.
You might also like...Self-Help Songs, 'How to Be Positive', by Chance the Rapper
Gonna to put the world away for a minute/Pretend I don't live in it/Sunshine's gonna wash my blues away
6. Zac Brown Band, Knee Deep
Yes, I know, it's ANOTHER Zac Brown Band song. Talk about biased. But this artist more than any other epitomises for me the feeling of just kicking back, relaxing, and taking the strain off of your mind. They're not talking about a literal vacation here, it's a mental one. We all carry around with us personal spas in the form of meditation. Get away for free!
Then I felt my pulse quickening/But regrets can't change anything...Joy, set my mind free/I was giving up, oh, I was giving in
7. Bastille, Joy
Another poignant lyric about letting the past be the past. Don't agonise and torment yourself over something you can't change. Also I added the second part of the lyrics, because it emphasises the positive message of the song. Just when you are thinking of giving in, don't! Relief from your pain could literally just be around the corner.
And when all broken-hearted people/Living in the world agree/There will be an answer/Let it be
8. The Beatles, Let It Be
This iconic song is probably most famous for having an amazing melody, as all The Beatles' songs do. But the lyrics really hit home, and underline what a lot of the other lyrics in this article have been saying. Don't fight against an immovable obstacle, especially if it is behind you - turn around, and let it go. Let it be.
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I recently sat down with up-and-coming US rapper, C Woodz, for his first ever UK interview!
Among other things, we spoke about his influences, how he got into music, and the meaning behind last year’s EP, ‘Born in October’. It was awesome to get the opportunity to chat with such a humble, but clearly driven, artist, and it was refreshing to hear him talk about the positive effect he hopes to have on his fans, and his ambitions for the future.
Check out the interview below!
How does it feel coming off the back of the release of your new single, ‘Drip or Drown’?
I love creating music, it feels good. Every single I release is a big moment. The video’s coming soon too!
Is there a new album on the horizon?
The album right now is not together. There’s a collection of singles that I’m focussing on - I’m going to release 6 of them over the next six months. The album, that’ll be sometime next year.
You recently shot the video for ‘Please Don’t’ in London. In the song you say you flew there without a case - is that true?!
I actually did! I go to London like twice a year, I love it there. Also ‘Please Don’t’, that song was one of my favourites off the EP ‘Born in October’.
In ‘Please Don’t’, you sing 'Please don't send them my way'. What are you referring to here?
Basically, it’s my experience when I first went to London, my first experience, I was so happy just being out there. The city showed so much love, I was inspired by the people, and how they gravitated to my music. It was all very overwhelming, so yeah, it was inspired by my first experience going to London. “Please don’t send them my way” is basically talking about negativity, don’t send me any negativity. You can relate that to anything.
You mentioned recently that “It’s time for me to reroute my message”, and your recent pack of singles, ‘Different Smoke’, was full of lots of positivity, love, and was about you dedicating yourself to your girl. How would you describe this new message, and what side of C Woodz are we going to be getting from now on?
As far as that, the whole concept is about changing up the direction of my lyrics. I’m in a different space now. Going forward, when I am dropping new projects, I really want people to hear a different perspective to my old music. I basically want to impact people differently, and not just talk about the same things, but still give them the same impact in that transition. As far as visuals, lyrics, when I’m writing them, everything is rerouted to get a different perspective.
Which artists inspire you the most?
That’s kinda tough! I’m inspired by a lot of artists. First off, the rapping side of me was inspired by Lil Wayne. I’ve been listening to him since the age of 8. Then there was the transition where Chris Brown came along. Also other artists like Tory Lanez, Meek Mill, all of those artists, they inspire me, along with others.
You talk about being inspired by these artists. How does it feel to be in a position where you are inspiring your fans, and you are a role model to them? Do you feel any pressure in this responsibility?
I treat that as a proud moment, I’m just starting to see people gravitate to my music, loving my lyrics, reciting them in videos. It’s great. There’s no pressure at all, it actually drives me to produce more music that they want to listen to. I love that feeling.
What was the mentality behind your first EP ‘Born in October’, which you released last year? What space were you in when you wrote that?
When I was creating it, this was one of the first projects I really sat down and thought through. I wanted to do it the right way. ‘Born in October’ has acronyms, symbolism, there’s a lot of meaning in there. First off, I was born in October, that was the first symbolisation. Secondly, I felt reborn again, going through the process of creating that music. Basically I just wanted to give everybody that was born in October, or whatever month they were born in, to connect with this EP. Because when I was creating it, with each song I was going through different emotions and trials, and I was putting those things in my music. I was feeling recreated, rejuvenated, and reborn, and it added a whole different perspective to who I was. I felt brand new.
What’s the thinking behind the album cover, which shows a figure meditating in the grasp of a dragon’s claw?
The whole meditation part, that’s an actual silhouette of me sitting down, just meditating and relaxing. That whole image just symbolises me feeling born again. The dragon that you see, that’s to symbolise luck. Also, when you think of a typical lucky number, what number do you think of? 7. That’s the reason there’s seven songs, the dragon is lucky, it’s all a symbol of completion. Feeling completed as I was writing this music.
I really want people to hear a different perspective to my old music. I want to impact people differently
What direction do you see the future of Hip Hop going in? Does 'mumble rap’ have a future?
When I think about Hip Hop and R&B, I think that it’s all about life right now. You know, when you see an old tree, and it’s been there for hundreds of years, it may look old but it continues to grow. That’s how I look at music, it’s going to continue to grow and evolve. No matter where we are at, great music lasts forever. Mumble rap ain’t gonna stick around, because people want to hear something that’s going to keep them sustained when they’re going through certain things. The music is going help them get through that. As an artist, I obviously have to adapt to the music that’s being created and that’s popular, but also put my own style on it. I’m not a mumble rapper, but I have to adapt to it.
How did you first get into music?
My favourite rapper is and always has been Lil Wayne. Like I said, it started right there when I was 8, and I went to a Lil Wayne concert. My brother rapped too so that was a big influence. Music was really all around me, so as I got to 16/17, I wanted to start creating. My first time writing, I basically took Tha Carter I or II, and I switched all the words around. If he said ‘red', I said ‘blue’, and so on. That was my first time writing, and that helped me to learn how to write. At 17 I wrote my first song, and when I look at the lyrics now it’s funny to me, but I can see where I was trying to go with it. As life went on, I learnt how to do it. During that era, when I was 17, that’s basically when Chris Brown came along, and everyone was gravitating towards him. There was the whole thing about him dancing and singing, I just liked his style. That paved the way for me, that’s how it all started.
Where do you see yourself at the end of the year?
Winning ‘Best New Artist’ at the BET Hip Hop Awards. I want to be doing music full time, if I can do that, that’s when I’ll feel like I’ve really made it.
Are you independent, or signed to a label?
I’m independent, not signed. All my videos and me travelling to shoot them, all that is at my own expense.
What would be your ideal collaborations?
I want to work with Chris Brown, Lil Wayne, Tory Lanez. But at the moment I’m working with no features. Lil' Keke is an artist that’s becoming really big over here in America, and I have a song with him [called Real and Fake]. He’s a big feature for me to have secured. But other than that, I would only do a feature if it was a big name artist. I’m really just focused on getting my own music out there right now.
I have a section on my blog called ‘Self-Help Songs’, where I analyse a particular song’s lyrics and see what lessons we can gain from it, because I feel like artists are in some ways today’s philosophers. They’ll be going through something, and they pen lyrics that can really help the listeners who are going through a similar struggle, but perhaps shed new light on it or shift the perspective in a really helpful way. Off the top of your head, which of your lyrics would you say you would want listeners to pay close attention to, that you feel can help people the most?
It’s a lyric on my ‘Born in October’ EP. It’s the first verse on my song, ‘Born’. It goes,
Look at my scars, they can tell you that the battle was real,
It’s real, and basically it’s saying that they never know what you been through until they walk in your shoes.
Interview by Maxim Mower
Stream C Woodz’ summer anthem, ‘Drip or Drown’, out on all platforms, and watch his video for ‘Please Don’t’ here.
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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
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,
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,
Originally published at phaser.com
There is a unique quality that only the upper, upper echelon of artists ever have. I’m not talking about the way their melodies are strung together, the way their charisma shines through on the track, or the way their lyrics shake you to your core. Of course, these are qualities that great artists possess. But only a handful of artists reach a point in their career where you don’t listen to see if the album or single is any good. You know it’s going to be good, so you just relax, and enjoy it.
Surprisingly, not many of today’s musical icons seem to possess this quality. Drake, who keeps breaking record after record after record, even ones held by The Beatles, still brings out an album to hesitant ears. ‘Will it be as good as the last one?’, they ask. The same is true of Ariana Grande, Taylor Swift, Post Malone - most of today’s musical heavyweights still turn up with a sense of something to prove.
Ed Sheeran literally has nothing to prove. Every album he’s ever brought out has been a smash hit, and every single he drops is draped with a VIP pass to Number One before anyone’s even listened to it. A significant number of your favourite songs were probably written by him, with his writing credits stretching all the way from The Weeknd to One Direction via Justin Bieber. And what’s more, he seems like the nicest guy to set foot in the music industry.
He recently announced his upcoming No.6 Collaborations Project, following on from the No.5 that he released before he’d even been signed to a label. The two lead singles feature Justin Bieber, Chance the Rapper and PnB Rock, and are - surprise surprise - currently sitting on top of the charts. Like I said, Ed Sheeran is one of those artists you can’t help but sit back and appreciate. He said he had a bucket list of artists he really wanted to work with, so that’s what he’s going to do. And why not? He’s one of the most successful artists of all time, so why not tick off those collaborations he’s been wishing for. What do you have left to strive for when you’re the best? In Ed Sheeran’s book, it’s to simply enjoy yourself.
This album should definitely be regarded as a complete love project, with Ed simply following his heart and working with the people he genuinely wants to work with, and not just names on a list handed to him by his record label. However, while we shouldn’t overanalyse it, it could also end up being one of his most interesting albums yet. The only slight criticism that people can possibly muster against Halifax’s most prized export, is that his music is at times a little derivative. Chance the Rapper and PnB Rock are certainly not features we could ever expect on a ‘standard’ Ed Sheeran album, so maybe this is his way of answering that final question as to how versatile he really is?
To be honest, I really don’t think this has crossed his mind. No.6 looks set to simply be a fun, eclectic journey through a whole host of musical styles and genres, one that is enjoyed just as much by the artist as it is by the listener. Who can we expect on the guest-list? Ed has made no secret of his love for Hip Hop, with the ‘favourite song’ referenced in the go-to wedding track of this generation, ‘Perfect’, being revealed to be Future’s hard-hitting gangster anthem ‘March Madness’. He also worked with Future on Taylor Swift’s ‘End Game’, so an appearance from the Atlanta rapper can perhaps be presumed. Travis Scott is almost certainly on there too, with a collaboration between Scott and Sheeran leaking earlier this year, and judging by the lyrics, seems to be Track 7 on the project, called ‘Antisocial’. There will undoubtedly be some curveballs thrown at us, but all the more reason to look forward to No. 6’s release.
This is a guy at the peak of his powers, nothing to prove, and just enjoying the artistic freedom his success has brought about. Is there any pressure on Ed Sheeran to deliver us another blockbusting, record-breaking smash hit of an album? 100% not.
But are we expecting one? Absolutely.
No. 6 Collaborations Project is out on July 12th, and is available to Pre-Add on all streaming platforms now.
Shorter version of this interview published at phaser.com
Exciting new R&B duo THEMXXNLIGHT, comprising of identical twins Akash and Krish Chandani, made waves in the music industry when Wiz Khalifa featured them on three tracks off his 2018 album, Rolling Papers 2. On 20th April, a few hours after the release of a new Wiz Khalifa album, which contains two more THEMXXNLIGHT features, I sat down to chat with the 22-year olds about what’s been an unforgettable year for them...
Well, this is really the perfect time to talk to you guys, because you’ve pretty much come full circle! This time last year, Wiz Khalifa had you all over Rolling Papers 2, and then just today his latest project, Fly Times, Vol. 1: The Good Fly Young, drops and you have a big presence on it once again. How are you guys feeling after such an amazing year?
“We’re feeling good, it’s pretty crazy. The feedback last time was similar, but they were mainly newer people that never knew about us. This time it was more like, ‘You did it once again!’”
How was the process different this time around, working with Wiz a year on?
“Well, the first time was through Sledgen [Taylor Gang’s in-house producer]. We had about eight songs, he probably just took three of them for the album. This time we actually went to Club Nightingale in LA, and then Wiz comes up to us and says, ‘Yo I need you to come to my house to record.’ We go to his house, and then we’re there for like twelve hours, we record like five songs, some with Chevy Woods. It was crazy because that was the first time in the studio with him. He was writing his verses in front of us. We just wrote something for the hooks pretty fast, just recorded it, both songs were on repeat the whole time. It was really different, a lot of the Taylor Gang were there, it felt like more of a family.”
Could you clarify, because there’s been a lot of speculation online, are you signed to the Taylor Gang label, or are you still independent?
“No, we’re not signed to Taylor Gang, but we are signed to Will Dzombak, who’s the CEO and founder of Taylor Gang Entertainment. He’s also Wiz’ manager”
There’s a new EP, XX, on the way, as well as the full length album, MOOD. Any word on when we can expect those to drop?
“XX is going to be first, we want to drop that in the next couple of months. Then MOOD will hopefully come out later in the year.”
I wanted to ask you about the origin of your name, THEMXXNLIGHT, and the reasoning behind switching the O’s out for X’s.
“So in Hindi our last name means ‘the moonlight’. And then we just felt spelling it with the X’s made it more mysterious, as well as being symbolic of us being twins.”
A year before you secured the Rolling Papers 2 features, you were recording in your dorm room on the 2004 version of GarageBand. I wish it could make me sound like that! Have you upgraded your kit since then?
“(laughing) No! It’s still hella old, a really, really old version of GarageBand. I think it’s the 2007 version.”
You rejected offers to play basketball at MIT and California State, and instead ended up graduating from RPI in New York with an engineering degree. A lot of readers will be at that point in their lives where they are having to choose between what they’re being told they’re supposed to do, i.e. get a degree, get a Masters, get a secure job, etc., and their hobbies. What made you take that leap of faith and opt for music over engineering and sport?
“That’s a good question! Somehow it worked out perfectly with the timing. At first, we imagined we’d play basketball for four years while doing our degrees. But within the first two or three months, we just didn’t feel a connection with the coach. It was a new coach, as the coach that recruited us had left. So we decided to drop from the team. Initially, we just made songs for fun, but by the tenth song, Wiz discovered us! That was two and a half years into making music. We graduated, then Rolling Papers 2 dropped in July. So it didn’t really involve any leap of faith before then, it was after that album released that our parents were like, ‘Ok, you can take some time away and focus on music’. It was a family decision, it wasn’t a rebellious, 'We’re running away from home’ kind of thing. Our parents said, ‘We’ll support you, and you guys can pursue this, and see how it goes’.
You’ve spoken in the past about how your sound has been heavily influenced by one of your favourite artists, The Weeknd. What drew you to his style of R&B?
“In high school, we were kind of shower singers. We always took instrumental lessons, but we were never trained vocally, and we still haven’t been, even though we do want to be. We were kind of singing around campus, and then we first heard ‘The Zone’ by The Weeknd one morning before getting dropped off at school. We just thought, ‘Yo, he sounds super unique, he sounds like an angel.’ He’s Ethiopian too, and his music actually has close tie-ins with Indian music, so immediately we felt very accustomed to his sound. We did a few The Weeknd covers and put them out on Soundcloud. They got shared by a couple of OVO and The Weeknd fan pages. It was crazy, it felt like our idols were slowly turning into our reality.”
Speaking of Drake’s OVO label, you recently shared a photo with Roy Woods on your Instagram. What features can we expect from the upcoming EP and album?
So we have one song with Chevy Woods, that’s going to be on his album in the summer, we can’t say what it’s called just yet. Then for our own projects, yeah, we have Roy Woods and Ye Ali. We've also worked with Megan Thee Stallion, she hit us up after the Wiz songs. She sent us a song which had two verses, but the hooks were blank. We recorded something, and she replied saying, ‘Yo, my mum loves it, my whole team loves it’. To be on her album would be a major honour, she’s an amazing female artist doing great things right now. Also TM88 is producing his album sometime this year, we have a song on there that’s co-produced by Sledgren. Also, Roy Woods has a full EP in the works. We have a collab project with him too that we’re excited about.”
Wow, so a lot to look forward to! I wanted to talk to you about your Indian heritage, and how big a part that plays in your music.
“It definitely plays a big part. Jay Sean inspired us a lot, it feels like the entire world still doesn’t know he’s British Indian. Obviously, NAV with XO, signed to The Weeknd, we would love to be a part of that. It’s clear that The Weeknd supports artists no matter what their culture is. Him putting on NAV was pretty crazy, and a great step for our community. Again, NAV paved the path for South Asian artists to really make it in genres other than Bollywood music.”
How does it feel to be role models for minority groups pursuing careers in music, particularly Indian Americans, because apart from NAV, there aren’t many in the game at the moment?
“There is a lot of pressure to please the community, because we can’t do a lot of the same things. Obviously there are a lot of drug influences in NAV’s music and videos, his background is more from Rexdale from Toronto. So it’s hard to find the balance for us. Based on feedback from the community, I think we can be good role models. Local high schoolers come up to us like, ‘Yo, you guys are legends, you’re the biggest inspiration for the Indian community’. We wish we’d have had an Indian rapper come to us and say, “Yo, you should pursue music’, then we would have been way more inspired from a younger age. What’s great as well is that people from all over India are also noticing us.”
You mentioned how NAV has the freedom to make a lot of drug references in his music, and modern R&B as a genre definitely contains numerous themes of drug use, with The Weeknd, for example, also following this trend. Do you feel, as artists that are just coming into R&B and are perhaps still seen as outsiders, that there is a pressure on you to conform to these stereotypes of R&B music?
“Yeah, good question. Not really, it’s kind of the theme of R&B to be on a druggy vibe, to put you in a high mood. We don’t feel pressure to do any of that stuff. Obviously singing about it makes sense because that’s the style of music, R&B is typically very sensual. If you want to do drugs, if doing drugs helps you in listening to that kind of music, then we’re not going to judge anyone for what they want to do. But there’s no pressure for us to partake in that. Our music is not heavily drug themed, there are very, very few references to drug abuse. We focus more on passion, and love story type stuff. There are some references, because like I said, it comes with the territory, but generally that’s not what we aim to sing about.”
Finally, for my blog I have this concept called Self-Help Songs, where I pick certain lyrics that people can learn something from, and I thought it could be cool to ask you about some lyrics from one of your newest Wiz features, ‘All For You’. Your chorus reads, “If you need someone to treat you right/If you need someone to talk to, call me/I’ll do anything you like/I wanna do it all for, all for, all for you”. What was the inspiration behind these lines?
“Yeah, so it’s kind of the beat that carried it. We heard it and it had that really reminiscing, slow jam R&B vibe. But we could also imagine Wiz going crazy hard on it. We thought we could make something that pleases both R&B and Rap fans. In terms of what inspired the lyrics, we came up with this story. We were kind of imaging a scenario where one of us was with a girl, maybe taking her around a shopping mall, treating her right kind of thing. Basically it means using your success in the music industry, to give back to your girl, and being unselfish, like ‘Everything I do, I’ll do for you’. Both songs are kind of about greatness, and giving back, and reminiscing.”
Interview by Maxim Mower
Hear THEMXXNLIGHT on Wiz Khalifa’s latest album, Fly Times, Vol.1: The Good Fly Young, and stream their brand new single, ‘Good Things’.
After the immense success of the Migos’ debut album, Culture, and their smash hit 'Bad and Boujee’, you would have thought they’d earned the right to be taken seriously. But they are talked of as something of a novelty, and a lot of people claim their popularity is merely the result of the ease with which they are turned into memes.
This seems a tad unfair, but regardless, the decision for each of the trio to release solo projects this year has provided Quavo, Takeoff and Offset, respectively, with the opportunity to show why they should be held in higher esteem, both collectively and as individual artists. However, Quavo’s solo album was disappointing, lacking the vocal innovation and melody that has made him such a sought-after feature, despite containing a handful of highlights. Takeoff’s project came and went without so much as a ripple in the unusually calm waters of the charts. So the onus was on Offset to redeem the rap group, and prevent critics from scratching their heads and wondering why they ever thought these solo experiments would be worth the risk.
Did he deliver? Well, he definitely succeeds in distancing himself from the typical style of the Migos, as well as the standard subject matter. There seems less self-assurance in Offset’s voice, as for the first time on a Migos album the loud posturing is replaced by hushed honesty. The title track, ‘Father of 4’, sets the mood for the rest of the project. After a very philosophical and perhaps overly poetic intro from Big Rube, Offset spares no time getting on topic - “I was 17 years old when I had you/ Trying to find my soul when I had you”. He names all his children, and unravels the layers of his relationship with them, opening up to the listener about how he perceives his identity as a father. While other rappers have often cited their offspring as their central motivation, these tributes can often sound trite, as the expression of love is enshrouded in trivial lyrics about Gucci belts and diamond chains.
Offset makes it clear this is not going to be one of those albums, with the artist being incredibly candid, often painfully so, about his personal life throughout Father of 4. ‘North Star’ is an emotional wade through Offset’s mental struggles, with the funk-oriented Cee-Lo Green seeming an odd choice at first, but ends up combining well for an outro that adds sentiment to the track. ‘After Dark’ is not catchy at all, but the chorus is uttered so statically that it gives you time to chew over each line, something unusual for Migos tracks, where the verses rattle along at such a speed that there is no time to think, or to stop and digest what is actually being said (albeit it normally not very much). ‘After Dark’ epitomises Offset’s move away from the typical tone and themes of his group.
He balances the melodies well with the quick fire bars that he has become renowned for, but Migos fanatics will inevitably ask where the celebratory anthems and triplet-fuelled explosiveness has gone. The attempts to satisfy this expectation are there, with ‘On Fleek’, ‘Clout’ and ‘Legacy’ all threatening as firecrackers, but ultimately lacking the necessary spark.
On the whole, though, Father of 4 is a pleasantly surprising listen, with Offset removing his Saint Laurent mask and baring his soul to the world, spinning the Migos blueprint on its head. When he rose to stardom and married Cardi B, Offset became one of the golden boys of Hip Hop. On Father of 4, he walks with the 24-carat necklace dangling as a heavy weight on his shoulders, rather than a symbol of his success.
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,
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?
Music Merchandise of the Week: