Watch this right now. Just do it. You don’t need to thank me.
If you want to see an artist at the peak of his powers absolutely nailing the zeitgeist, click play.
Kendrick Lamar dropped To Pimp A Butterfly just a couple months ago, and it’s already one of my favorite albums of all time.
The brazen mixture of politically, socially, and psychologically aware lyrics with an incredibly nuanced and evolved delivery; the dark and deeply funky production, shot through with an entire jazz band’s worth of all-star live players; the live-wire theatricality of the entire endeavor… all of these parts coalesce as Lamar’s ambition and talent meet in in the stratosphere.
It’s both incredibly audacious and earnest to a fault. The album feels embarrassingly personal at times, the rapper spilling his demons in a drunken crying jag. At the same time, everything’s wrapped in a sense of universal struggle, the intrinsic knowledge that we’re all in this together. There’s no wonder that it’s proven as divisive as it is beloved.
It pays to heed recommendations. Today I clicked on an artist that my last.fm decided I should hear. Afrikan Sciences turned out to be a grand adventure, filling my Saturday afternoon with some kind of space-age techno funk. I fell in love.
I’ll get this out of the way: I love this album, Circuitous, already. It combines so many favorite elements in a fresh way: weird jazz, alien techno, Afrofuturism, synthesizers, sci-fi atmospherics, and a radical approach to percussion and rhythm. Most of all, I’m reminded of a purely instrumental cousin of visionary hip-hop duo Shabazz Palaces, one of my favorite projects on earth – and creators of the best album of 2014.
The titular single is easily one of the most approachable tracks on the lengthy album, but perfectly showcases the quicksand-shifting drum sampling and humming analog synthesizer patches. It’s only a hint of how far deep the material goes. Try for yourself; click play below:
How many rappers drop bars about dropping acid?
This may not be the best tune on A$AP Rocky‘s new album, but it exemplifies the tripped out charm of the whole spacey affair. The video feels like a lighthearted take on Gaspar Noe’s swirling labyrinth of a death trip, Enter The Void, all pulsing lights and liquid camerawork. Check it.
L$D, funny enough, is one of the more conventional tracks on the album. It acts as soft, neon-glow connective tissue, sliding effortlessly into the kaleidoscopic heart of the hallucinatory album. In that way, the name suits it perfectly.
The full album, At.Long.Last.A$AP, is a full-bore journey through psychedelic underworlds both street-level and subliminal. It’s one of the most cohesive yet dreamy hip-hop full lengths I’ve heard in a while, and surprised the hell out of me. After only kind of enjoying his major label debut a couple years ago, this one feels like a revelation.
If dropping acid really gave Rocky his own revelation, allowing for an expanded sense of his own art, I’ll admit to being a little jealous. It’s been over a decade since I’ve had a deeply psychedelic experience and I feel like my inner life is about due for another little journey. I’m thankful for the reminder.
Apparently CFCF is bursting at the seams with new material. In addition to a new album, Radiance & Submission, he’s dropping a full-length cassette album on 1080p Collection called The Colours Of Life. Here’s a preview piece.
After getting excited about the upcoming traditional album (new single streaming right here), this is a complete surprise. You don’t exactly anticipate an artist returning after two years of near silence with a pair of full length records, but here they are!
This release will be 40 minutes of unbroken, blissed-out sound, full of bright timbres and worldly percussion. Timbre-wise, it’s more in line with his light, modern minimalist work, while the fluid sound collage structure nods toward his monumental Night Bus mixtapes. To a fan like me, this sounds like heaven.
The fact that he’s been nodding toward Ryuichi Sakamoto and Laraaji (a pair of gods, as far as I’m concerned) only heightens my excitement. The label page itself features a lengthy bit of backstory from the artist himself, mentioning The River EP, a new age-tinted instrumental journey into wide-eyed pan-global textures – and the record where I fell in love with CFCF’s music.
1080p Collection has been dropping some seriously intriguing music over the past year, and his inclusion on their roster only heightens the appeal. You can pick the album up on August 14th, on either cassette or digital download: The Colours Of Life order page on 1080p.
I’m a little lost without you
That could be an understatement
A little over a week ago I wrote about Arthur Russell’s Corn. Another posthumous monument to an artist who died long before the world could appreciate his genius, it got me spelunking into the vast caverns of his discography, picking out old gems for an even closer look.
I found this wonderful fan-made video, using footage from a Soviet animated short, Girl And Dolphin, by Rosalie Zelma. Paired with the dreamlike love song A Little Lost, it’s an achingly gorgeous way to spend three minutes.
This is the song that made me realize Biggie was far more than just the guy behind a few great singles on MTV in my youth. It took years, but Gimme The Loot launched him from a dream to the pantheon of all-time great rappers, in my view.
The beat is monstrous and the lyrics hit hard and fast, dancing in a trick-move delivery that is still mostly unmatched in the world of hip-hop. Biggie could spit rapid fire with eloquence, twisting literary turns of phrase and gutter-blast shade in the same bar, all with a flow and voice so catching and endearing, it was inevitable he’d become a megastar.
Because of the time and place I grew up, my biggest association with hip-hop was via MTV, so my biggest impressions of Biggie were the Puff Daddy features that came right before and after his death. Great songs, no doubt, but oversaturation pushed me away. It wasn’t until the end of the decade, when cruising with friends, getting high, and listening to rap for hours on repeat, that his true genius revealed itself. I was tapped in and could no longer look back. This guy was as real and perfect as Nas on his debut, or 2pac on his last album, for that matter. The skill and artistry cut through the fog of ubiquitous Puffy videos and overabundance of so-so posthumous collections, and I realized what all my friends were loving years before.
As it is, he was cut down in his prime and we’ll never know what could have happened. But this song, and the album it’s found on, Ready To Die, will always stand as a testament to the heights of artistic power that major label rap achieved in the 1990s.
It’s hard to describe to a newcomer exactly what Arther Russell does that’s so ineffably unique. He’s a cellist, composer, and otherworldly disco producer who crafted some of the strangest and most deeply affecting music the world has ever known. His singing is deeply felt, vulnerable, and nothing like any classic vocalist.
Arthur Russell was unforgivably ignored in his lifetime, but I am so thankful that the massive body of work he kept to himself has been thoughtfully collected and released in the years since. He may have died before I was 10 years old, but he’s now one of my favorite musicians ever.
The man’s brief career began in the 70s collegiate avant-garde scene, collaborating with Steve Reich, Philip Glass, Rhys Chatham, and most notably, Allen Ginsberg, accompanying the beat poet’s live work on cello. He moved into the gritty New York disco scene and crafted some of the most alien dance singles of the era before finally crafting his own masterpiece. World Of Echo, a solo journey of vocals, cello, soft percussion and electronic effects, is the only full album released during his lifetime, as Russell died of AIDS in 1992, nearly broke.