Friends of MEB Presents: The Retrographer, a monthly newsletter highlighting the best in new and old tracks. Like what you see below? Be sure to subscribe to The Retrographer Newsletter at the bottom of the post!
- My band Milhaus just put out our first EP, “The Graduate.” It’s available on Bandcamp, Soundcloud, Spotify,iTunes… You have no excuse. Give it a listen!
- My elusive idol D’Angelo put out a Spotify session.
- Donnie Trumpet and the Social Experiment – which includes my favorite rapper of the moment, Chance the Rapper – is out and it’s free.
- Spotify users, would you go to “Preferences”, scroll down to “Display Options” and then switch on “Show unavailable tracks in playlists”? This way I can post songs that aren’t on Spotify and you can still see them.
Speaking of which: I’ve had to make some tough choices with this issue of the Retrographer. I use Spotify to host my playlists because a lot of you use it and it generally has a lot of the songs I want to feature. But, unfortunately, not all, so once in a while I’m forced to make a choice: I either include songs you won’t be able to play on Spotify for the sake of being complete, or cut songs I think are really great to keep the playlist at an honest 10 that sequences right. I’ve cut out a lot of my favorite songs lately for that reason, from Fetty Wap’s “Promises” to Rihanna’s “James Joint.” It also makes it a bit harder to shout out great remixes or friends who are making great music but releasing on Soundcloud or Bandcamp.
I’m considering switching to a service like Mixcloud, and I wanted to get some feedback: would you still listen to the playlist if you couldn’t listen on Spotify? The upside is clear: I’d be able to include songs from anywhere. But it’s got some serious downsides: it’s harder to follow the playlists, you can’t skip around as easily, among other issues. Weigh in!
Ten Songs for May, 2015
- Hop Along, “Texas Funeral” (Spotify / YouTube) – Frances Quinlan has a voice that, at it’s most throttled, has the sandpaper sound of cats fighting in an alley. It’s abrasiveness quills with the pains of daily life, then softens as she watches the avenues of possibility in her life pass in her rearview.
- Kamasi Washington, “The Message” (Spotify / YouTube) – Saxophonist and composer Kamasi Washington has been chasing Coltrane since he was practically a kid. His mountainous, three-hour long The Epic peaks and concludes with this homage, looping in gospel chops, fusion, and the urbanity he lent to Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly.
- Donnie Trumpet & the Social Experiment, King Louie, and Quavo, “Familiar” – (iTunes / YouTube) – The Social Experiment – Chance the Rapper’s collective – has a sound somewhere between Chicago gospel and the theme from Arthur. Somehow Migos’ Quavo, best known for club bangers “Versace” and “Fight Night,” and King Louie, Chicago’s foremost Drill rapper, fit in perfectly.
- A$AP Rocky, Juicy J, and UGK, “Wavybone” (Spotify / YouTube) – After a year of heartbreak, tragedy, and indulgence, Rocky still finds a way to lay back in his beloved Houston influences with a posthumous feature from Pimp C.
- Jamie xx, Young Thug, and Popcaan, “I Know There’s Gonna Be (Good Times)” (Spotify / YouTube) – A gospel sample swirls Popcaan’s croons with Thugger’s infectiously indecipherable ad libs, rising and rising until unexpectedly, an unsettling sound enters. It’s the vocalist, chopped and screwed. Is that a wail of pleasure at good times’ arrival, or agony at it’s absence?
- Omarion, Chris Brown, and Jhene Aiko – “Post To Be” – (Spotify / YouTube) – This song has gotten huge since it came out in February, thanks to DJ Mustard’s fat West Coast synths and Jhene’s anallingus (don’t Google it) stipulation. This song gave the whole internet (especially Vine) the giggles, but it’s a banger nonetheless. Check out the big remix, too (thanks,Frank).
- Neon Indian, “Annie” (Spotify / YouTube) – Alan Palomo might sound, at first blush, as loose and easy as Washed Out or as tropical as St. Lucia. But a closer look reveals a precision-obsessed engineer, the type who might give a TED talk about those auteurs who control every aspects of a production. Looking this relaxed is hard work.
- Nao, “Zillionaire” (Spotify / YouTube) – There’s some AlunaGeorge here, some Erykah Badu, and some Jamie Lidell. This funk track has the rare ability to stomp nimbly, swaggering about like a dancing elephant.
- Snoop Dogg, Charlie Wilson, Rick Ross, and Kendrick Lamar, “I’m Ya Dogg” (Spotify / YouTube) – Snoop hasn’t been a good, or particularly engaged, rapper in years. So, for almost a full record, he wisely steps aside to sing hooks. Pharrell handles production, and Kendrick and Rozay handle bars, Charlie Wilson sings backup.
- Mbongwana Star, “Coco Blues” (Spotify / YouTube) – This album goes in all sorts of interesting directions, painting the group’s native Congolese influences in spacey synths. But on this track, the band deviates, sounding like a more serene “Walk on the Wild Side.”
It’s easy to forget now that O.G.’s turn to Stephen King to revive it, but Gangsta was once mainstream rap’s default. “Realness” was qualified by class (poor), race (black), and what those disadvantages drove you to do (kill). If you were different, you faced scorn and commercial marginalization. People would say you were fake.
In hindsight, this makes Kanye West the most transformative figure in rap’s history.
In 2004, after a triumphant run as a producer, culminating in Jay-Z’s aborted retirement The Black Album, Kanye pivoted to rapping himself with The College Dropout. He begins by railing against the dismal odds faced by young black people. “We wasn’t supposed to make it past 25 / joke’s on you, we still alive,” he darkly mocks on one of “We Don’t Care,”‘s many fierce and hilarious couplets. Now an artist parodied in popular culture as the emblem of big-headedness, Kanye is, on closer examination, the opposite exactly. His songs are about shame. He knows that, as he proclaims on “All Falls Down,” “They made us hate ourself and love they wealth.” And he is denied. Humiliated, even. “I’m trying to get the car with the chrome-y wheels here / you’re trying to cut out lights out like we don’t live here!”
But he’s not speaking to a politician or a cop, but to the president of the college he’s about to drop out of. To the institutions. This middle-class college dropout, son of a college professor and a photographer, bedecked in pink polo shirts and Versace backpacks, toppled rap’s entrance requirements. There is no Drake, no Nicki Minaj, no Chance the Rapper without him. Kanye’s concerns are smart and serious, presented with an irresistible combination of humor and incredible beat-making. He tackles a slew of middle class problems, like materialism, dead-end jobs, and student debt with a conviction that makes them universal.
Conviction is Kanye’s most singular quality. Yes, he’s smart, funny, lovable, and deeply self-aware, but no emotion dominates his personality more than his unconditional belief in himself. He refuses to work for the Gap for the rest of his life. “This nigga graduated at the top of our class,” he tells on “School Spirit.” “I went to Cheesecake, he was as motherfucking waiter there.” He didn’t drop just out of college; He dropped out of a destiny that deferred and denied his dreams. And from there, he succeeded. Because he didn’t care what people said.
Though these playlist are all on Spotify, not every song (including many of my favorites) is available to stream.