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.
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:
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,
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?