Music & Revolution: A documentary from Levi’s & Skepta

Grime MC Skepta has had a huge last two years. After the release of his debut album, Konnichiwa, the North London wordsmith has created a new audience and increased the popularity of Grime worldwide, and received important cosigns from the likes of Drake, Kanye West, and A$AP Mob. He recently partnered with Levi’s to mentor 12 young artists in his home town of Tottenham, in North London. Skepta showed the young artists how to navigate the digital age from an artists prospective.   The project was turned into a documentary. Watch Music & Revolution below.

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Album Review: Starboy

by Joe Mitchell

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The Weeknd released his 4th album in 4 years, Starboy, last Friday with a solid combination of classic RnB bangers with a mix of a mainstream pop feel. The album includes a list of 18 songs with features from credible artist such as Daft Punk, Lana Del Ray, Future and Kendrick Lamar. After pulling out of Rihanna’s European tour in March, the man formally known as Abél Tesfaye decided he would start working on his next album that was released only a about a year after beauty behind the madness which got world wide recognition with the hit “I cant feel my face.”

Starboy as a whole was noticeably more mainstream than the Weeknd’s previous albums catering towards pop culture while still trying to have his classic RnB style to it. Trying to appeal to more of a mainstream culture is not necessarily a bad thing in my opinion as it’s just a way of expanding the fan base. The Weeknd told Zane Lowe from Beats 1 in LA last week “It’s good to have darkness, because when the light hits it feels that much better.” This statement speaks volumes because it gives the Toronto native flexibility to always go back to being a creative RnB artist who will not just get swallowed up by pop culture.

On the album there is like any other album songs that stand out more than others for various reasons specifically “Starboy”, “Party Monster”, “Secrets”, “True Colors”, “Sidewalks” and “Love to Lay”. “Starboy” takes the roll of the signature song of the album and has the same kind of feel as “The Hills” did in Beauty in the Madness or “Wicked Games” in Trilogy. “Starboy” has the a catchy chorus and with Daft Punk producing the beat you can not really go wrong with it. “Party Monster” is the next song that is for sure a banger on the album with it being one of the 4 songs released before the album. It takes on a feel similar to “In the Night” in beauty in the madness, with it not necessarily being the most upbeat song like false alarm but you could definitely bump it at a party. “Secrets” is another song on the album that is a very solid make. Secrets is that song that you’re for sure putting on first thing once you get in the car if you’re just trying to chill and relax. It’s not as slow and heartfelt as True Colors but it is just a chill song with good production behind it that you’re playing anytime you’re traveling on the road, laying down listening to music before bed or taking a shower. It’s just a super dope chill song. True Colors is that song on the album that makes you want to have a special someone in your life if you don’t already have one. It’s a classic RnB love song that makes you want to feel something special with someone. Sidewalks features Kendrick Lamar with a great verse and the Weeknd delivering a nice hook where he says, “Sidewalks saved my life, they don’t ever lie, sidewalks saved my life, they showed me all the signs.” Great song, good message, and Kendrick was a great fit for the feature. “Love to Lay” is the last song I consider a must listen, possibly my favorite besides Party Monster. Max Martin and Ali Payami produced the song, with the Weeknd having an excellently executed hook definitely one of the songs that is a radio hit. The song is constructed extremely well and has the radio feel reminiscent of “Cant feel my Face.” I wasn’t very impressed with “False Alarm”. I thought it was definitely put together very poorly and probably rushed when put together. I was honestly kind of scared about the album when it came out pre album but the album has since proved that’s not the case. Besides “False Alarm” there’s no song I’m skipping over when it comes on in my library.

Overall, Starboy is a solid well-constructed album and even though it is pretty mainstream and pop I don’t think that should take away how great of a artist the Weeknd is or how well the album was made. I hope going forward however the Weeknd can start doing his own sound again like he did in “Kiss Land” and “Trilogy.”

Stream Lil Uzi Vert and Gucci Mane: 1017 vs The World

by Jacob McKay

The collaborative tape features 7 songs from the Atlanta Veteran and Philly upstart, featuring production from Zaytoven and Manny Fresh among others. An interesting concept for a collaboration to say the least, as both rappers offer very contrasting deliveries. Uzi feels at home over most of the production here, with Gucci sounding out of place on some of the songs. It’s up to listeners to decide, but I would venture to say that Lil Uzi is in the process of cementing a sound that isn’t quite the same as Gucci’s old Atlanta. “Changed My Phone”, the first song on the project, sets the tone with hard hitting production from C Note and a filthy hook by Uzi. Gucci feels at home here, and this could be the song on the project that goes the farthest. “In ’04” features both Uzi and Gucci on the hook, and is the other most successful example of collaboration on the project. The project is Uzi’s 3rd this year, and adds to Gucci’s impressive list of releases since being freed from jail. Listen to the project below, and stay tuned for more releases this winter.

“Blocking my haters like Shaq”-Lil Uzi Vert

YEEZY NEEDS TEACHING: Has Kanye Gone Crazy?

by Jacob McKay

I have never modeled myself after Kanye West. Has he been an inspiration for myself and countless others? Undeniable. Has he been controversial at times? Undebatable. Has he been plain stupid? Has he gone crazy? Something about Kanye’s public behavioral patterns can probably give us the longterm answer, and I’m leaning towards no. We’ll explore that in detail as the news has just come in that the remainder of the Saint Pablo tour has been cancelled. This is causing a lot of uproar on the internet, but the internet did by and large tell the guy to go packing after his inexplicable semi-endorsement of Trump and pleas for Jay-Z and Beyonce to talk to him and hopefully to let their kids play together. We’ll see which direction West heads next, but hopefully this doesn’t result in a child named South.

As a fan, Kanye has provided me with the best feelings that music can possibly provide. Yeezus Tour in 2013 was and still is the best night of my life. I realized the true power of music that night, to bring people together and to bring people above. Much like on the Saint Pablo tour, The Yeezus Tour featured a stage that moved up and down, but this one was attached to a literal fake mountain. There’s no way I can do the scene justice by attempting to decode it in words. Imagine being a huge Michael Jordan fan the day he hit the shot over Ehlo to beat Cleveland. Imagine being a huge LeBron James fan and you were in the second row for the Block in Golden State. For those of you who can’t sports reference, let’s say you really love Oprah and you’re on Oprah. That’s what it felt like. Every song bringing with it countless emotions and memories, not only my own but I could feel those of others in the crowd. I was new to concerts then, so I wasn’t expecting the amount of emotion. There was one guy in the crowd pretty much just yelling “I LOVE YOU KANYE! YEAH KANYE!” at all the quiet parts but his voice carried absurdly well for being in a stadium. I was in the second row  for this one and I felt the crowd behind me as much as I heard them. At the end of the show, and I’ve told many people this, but Kanye and I made eye contact. I looked at him and pointed, and I’m real sure he couldn’t have been looking at anyone else’s face in response. I levitated that night. And before you write everything that I’m about to say off as mindless Kanye Fandom, understand how mad I am at this man for making me have to even entertain the thought that he might be clinically insane. And I mean we’re all a little crazy, but we can agree that Kanye has looked at the line and leaped over it almost at will.1385053489626a2050_46f5_4c59_8984_f706bc901211_kanye_west_yeezus_tour.png     The Yeezus Tour

Kanye was pretty normal before the Taylor Swift VMA’s thing. I remember being a Middle Schooler, not even at peak Kanye Fandom yet, and I remember seeing the video clip of what had happened right after it happened. I kid you not, my first thought was,”Well yeah Beyonce should’ve won.” Then I realized this wasn’t some MTV concoction to boost ratings. It was just Kanye being Kanye after drinking what sources claim to be a bottle of Hennessy. That was when people thought he was crazy the second time. The “George Bush hates black people” line was too much for most of national television. This is in a time before memes were going viral within seconds. Do you think Kanye would have been eaten alive more or less now had he pulled the Taylor Swift stunt this year? The memes would be good enough to hopefully get whoever made one of them a college degree. But thankfully, that was then. “Imma let you finish..” became what you said every time you interjected somebody who might’ve been saying something important. Time went by and we grew up. Kanye grew up too, thankfully, and came back from his admitted error to release My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy in 2010. In terms of sheer technical brilliance and execution of a vision, I find that album to be almost second to none. He came back and he came ready and he shut everybody up for a while. It was back to the music, which is what Kanye is best at and what Kanye would’ve stuck to if he existed in the same mental confines as us.257E226900000578-2938234-image-a-156_1423455645730.jpg The MTV VMA’s. 2009.

Kanye and limits have never gone hand in hand that well, and the “You don’t have answers Sway” was the first taste that America had of the new, more pissed off, more marginalized, more Shakespearean Kanye. In every interview, he was the most outspoken critic for himself and his greatness. He literally said over and over again that he was the new Steve Jobs or Shakespeare or Warhol. He was constantly complaining about the fashion industry and it’s glass ceiling, which is a real thing. He also complained about artists who mastered one field not being taken seriously in another. maxresdefault.jpgKanye with Sway Calloway on Sway In the Morning.

These are real, big complaints for Kanye in Kanye’s head. Kanye’s head doesn’t work like your head, or my head or anyone else’s head, and Kanye knows this better than anyone. That’s why he often makes news for stupid things like the Donald Trump comment or the Sway In the Morning outburst last year. This is what happens when ideas swirl around in an isolated head too much. They come out ugly, misconstrued, lacking refinement, or just plain wrong. I blame Kanye solely for having too many yes men in his life. If I were one of Kanye’s friends right now, (looking at you Don C, Ibn Jasper, Pusha, even Kim), I would probably tell him to calm down and shut up because nobody knows what I’m saying again. We could sit here and speculate that these long rants are drug fueled, or maybe a symptom of fatigue or some mental illness. All of the above would explain the cancellation of the tour, which I’m happy about. Kanye didn’t need that mic every night at this point. Hopefully this means that Kanye’s friends got a good enough hold of him to take him out of the drivers seat. Kanye hasn’t gone crazy. He’s always been crazy, but his passion is only beautiful when focused. Hopefully that’s what’s happening in the middle of this cancelled tour. Maybe, somewhere gestating, is that other album ‘Ye promised us for this year. I’d take that if he came out and said he didn’t mean what he said about Trump. Him and Kid Cudi hugging it out on stage told me a lot about the state of Kanye’s mental health at the moment. That show was only 3 songs long. He is mentally beat, and doesn’t really care how he looks. That’s pretty relatable, except when you’re an international mega star who’s mid tour. We forget what kind of a pedestal we put these people on. Kanye West only made a song called “I am A God”, because we enabled that thought. When you take a guy crazy enough to have unflappable levels of self belief, put him on a pedestal and tell him to “act normal” it won’t work. The minute he doesn’t get to do something he wants to do he is furious until it happens, because a God does what a God wants to do. rs_600x600-160913080544-600.Kanye-West-Stage-Kf.91316.jpg           A fan tries to climb on stage during this years’ Saint Pablo Tour stop in Atlanta.

Kanye is more than mortal, as is any human being imbued with flesh and blood. I am simply here to tell you that the patterns communicate that Kanye isn’t done yet, even though he’s 20 years older than me. We’re definitely on the verge of seeing the classic “Rapper turns 40, doesn’t know how to be 40” here. But I have faith that we get one more musical statement that makes stadiums full of people literally stand rapt as if they were in church. That is a power that Kanye hasn’t shown us he’s lost yet. And no matter what happens, you will listen. If you remember this article when that album comes out I will feel incredibly vindicated. Kanye has an inability to tell himself no that fuels his originality and creativity and passion. That is what we need to get back to talking about. That is the difference between him and every other producer from Chicago who thinks they can rap. He KNEW he could. I think we can all learn something from this frame of mind. I’ve never related to it more than I do now. I’m a college student, busy, drained, an emotional wreck, but I am deeply not worried. I KNOW I’m good. That knowing versus thinking could be the difference between winning and losing in this life. If I didn’t have this knowing feeling I would be stressing over the fact that I’m a black male journalism major in a  declining industry who might make 30k after graduation if I do it the traditional way. But I’m not. Yeezy taught me not to be. Not the guy on stage ranting about loving Trump and being afraid of  Jay-Z’s “killers”. The guy who told us that if it doesn’t kill you it makes you stronger. The guy who had us all waiting until our money was right. The guy who made Jesus Walk in the club. The College Dropout whose life has become a Picasso. Dark parts, grotesque parts, but nonetheless a masterpiece.

636077956363844455-kanye.jpg       Kanye connected to the harness that keeps him on his flying stage.

 

Concert Stories: Hippo Campus

This concert was big. I mean for me anyways; the concert itself was in Augsburg College’s 400 capacity gymnasium and cover was only $8. But this was a big night for me! It just so happened that I was going to this concert with a girl who I had my eye on for some time and was planning on asking out (along with a few other friends).

As we drove to the venue we smoke a few bowls, as precocious lil’ teenagers do, and went to get food at this nasty Ethiopian restaurant. I didn’t know this until that night, but apparently you eat Ethiopian food with your hands. As you can imagine, it’s pretty hard to flirt with your crush when your high ass is shoveling food in your face like a four-year-old toddler. Strike 1. We pay and leave the restaurant and at the exact moment we get outside and start walking down the sidewalk, this dude hurries past us and bumps into me accidentally. As he walked away I yelled at him to watch where he’s walking next time, thinking, this will show my girl that I’m a badass! I felt like a badass, at least until my friend yells at me: “bro wtf that was the drummer!” Girls love it when you’re a dick to one of their favorite musicians! Strike 2.

We finally get to the venue and walk inside to find a small, sweaty white man wearing cheetah print rapping on stage. My first thought was “oh shit, I think I smoked way too much weed, I’m hallucinating!” But then I looked down at my ticket and realized there was an opening act: a man named Sunreal (like “unreal” but stupider). I apologize to any Sunreal fans reading this but frankly, you should probably just stop listening to music. This is the first act I’ve ever seen actually get booed off stage, only he didn’t realize people were booing. At one point in his set he threw back his head and yelled “Minneapolis loves me!”. Even the drunk couple making out in front of me was like hell nah go home.

Anyways, Sunreal finally gets off stage and Hippo Campus comes out and starts playing a pretty amazing show. These guys have a lot of talent and I would highly recommend seeing them! Apparently my crush was really feeling the music too, or the drugs… because she started dancing with me! In fact, she was actually so inebriated that she started to try to take my clothes off in the middle of the dance floor. Strike three, you’re… in?

The night was a success; an exciting adventure with good friends, dancing to one of my favorite bands, and I got my high school girlfriend out of it! A night I will always be thankful for.

 

Concert Stories: Umphrey’s McGee

It was our sophomore year of high school when my best friend, soon-to-be girlfriend, and a third friend endeavored to an Umphrey’s McGee concert. There, in the prime of our adolescence, we childishly came to the conclusion that we wanted to “try smoking pot.”

Those familiar with Umphrey’s McGee and the culture surrounding jam bands will know that this is a pretty intense setting in regards to substances. In my naivety and in attempt to impress a girl I was with, I asked the man in front of us if he had any “misdemeanors.” While “misdemeanors” was both a euphemism for weed and an attempt at humor on my part, the man initially replied to my kiddish question with a look of confusion. He then proceeded to laugh and tell us that pot was actually a felony, but if we found any to send it his way. This man also looked like he was about 45 and advised to only take one hit, because what went around in this crowd was “strong.” The guy I had asked for pot from quickly turned into a father figure. Friendly, but patronizing.

The concert began, and the Gatorade bottles spiked with vodka that we had awkwardly snuck in were empty. It was at this point we were passed a joint, and our meek aspirations were met. With obvious inexperience, I daintily put the joint in my mouth, and before I even inhaled much of anything, passed it onto my friends. We thanked the good people who shared their weed with us, which was then proceeded by them telling us that the joint was laced with PCP. I had a brief panic attack before I realized that they were only joking.

While I wasn’t very successful at actually getting high, I’ll always cherish this story as a milestone and experience shared with some of the people I’m closest to.

SO FAR GONE: How Drake has lost his way.

by Jacob McKay

I used to love Drake, man. Late middle school me knew and still knows every single word to every verse on Forever, Best I Ever Had, Over, Fancy, all of them. Drake captured the hip-hop world with confident vulnerability, which was previously unheard of in a genre where people try to call each other out for supposed weakness literally every day. Drake somehow insulated himself from that while making bold claims alongside some of the biggest rappers in the game from the get go. Drake is only here in front of us because of his original association with Lil Wayne and Young Money, (a division of Cash Money Records). Lil Wayne was still an unquestioned powerhouse whose word carried a lot of weight in hip-hop in 2009. It was the post-Carter 3 Wayne that was confident and also bored with doing things that traditional rappers do. That’s why we got a Lil Wayne rock album, (which I won’t say bad things about because of how good Prom Queen kind of is), and that’s also why he signed Drake. A Canadian jewish kid who was on a tv show called Degrassi as a teen but who had a pretty marketable package as an artist and had the perfect delivery for hip-hop’s transition into the dominant form of pop.

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Lil Wayne saw the pliable storyline that one could craft from an actor so talented, and instead still let him tell his own story. Wayne was relatively hands off in Drake’s development, which is partially why Drake is at the point he is now. Drake makes songs opportunistically and remix’s them even more opportunistically. Drake remixed Tuesday, made iLoveMakonnen a thing, and then dropped him when the hype died. He’s added on or stolen from multiple rappers over the years since Take Care dropped and won him the Grammy that cemented his greatness. He is addicted to being Drake, which is understandable, but he’s also a guy who is making music for himself in a world that needs much more. I know his music is relatable and has touched millions of people, but I quite honestly think Drake’s going to make whatever the hell makes him money. That’s why he’s so deep into the dancehall sound, and why he hopped on the grime wave last year. Does he have a nose for talent? I would say so. We both found Skepta around similar times and once I heard him rap I knew that his energy was one of a kind special. I love him for never letting Drake get a feature on his album because he wanted his work to be his.

Screen-Shot-2015-07-12-at-02.35.07-620x390.pngDrake Drake with Skepta
When you work with Drake your song becomes his song, and that also can be in terms of money and royalties earned as well. When D.R.A.M. made Cha Cha, he did not anticipate that Drake would flip it into Hotline Bling and go number 1. He deserves  some of the credit for a Drake hit even though he never met Drake and never worked on that song with Drake. That’s because Drake is a cultural leech. As producer Zaytoven recently said, when you work with Drake you don’t really work with Drake. You email beats and he raps on them and then you just worked with Drake. Drake is a king in a very comfortable castle built on emotionally vulnerable and honest bars about an upbringing that we still don’t know everything about in a city that most of us have never been to, in Toronto. He’s built himself an incredible house of cards here that we are fully behind and in support of with no verification of authenticity other than whatever he was comfortable telling us.  We don’t actually know if Drake really got to understand what the streets were like during his child actor days, but what we know now is he’s certainly acting like it on songs with Future and Gucci Mane recently. Those men are the kings of Atlanta and they couldn’t resist the Drake Wave. Drake cosigns you, you can’t afford to say know because of how big he is, and how much a potential friendship could mean to you as an established rap artist who needs to keep people excited. You’re not worried about Drake stealing your record then, you just want people to know that you’re friends with the guy, because he is more relevant now than most people are at the peak of their careers. Gucci is over that hill even now.   Rappers like 2 Chainz rely on Drake features to give their songs a national appeal they may have lacked. But Drake doesn’t care about 2 Chainz and Game and Gucci.the_game_and_drake_shoot_100_video_in_compton.jpg Drake and The Game081616-music-Drake-And-Gucci-Mane.jpg Drake and Gucci Mane

They make him look cool and give him credibility with the cache that still cares about the old way of the industry. He didn’t care about Makonnen, or D.R.A.M., or Dave (The British rapper behind Wanna Know). He is different than Kanye, who used Desiigner’s song Panda for a sample on his album, and helped the 18 year old from Brooklyn turn it into the number 1 song in the country after signing him. I’m not saying Drake hasn’t signed people to OVO Sound and helped them flourish. Partynextdoor is proof of that. But what OVO Sound is now is an amalgamation of all the sounds Drake didn’t get bored of, and they’re all similarly somber and full of emotionally stunted complaints about women. Drake is fake man. I didn’t believe it after the Meek Mill thing, and I don’t think he writes most of his stuff anymore even if he did at one time. That’s not why he’s fake though, because a lot of people do that now. He’s fake because he’s always kind of been acting. The Drake that we know now is different than the Drake we knew in 2009, not because he evolved and matured but because he had to keep up with what was cool over anything else. He does this all while playing mostly safe cards in order to not subject his credibility to close cross-examination. I hate how he smugly lacks substance in most of his music now and knows you won’t care. He knows he’s rich for life now because he’s got you, and he just wants more. We found out that this week he could be planning a Taylor Swift hip-hop/r&b album because why not? She’s huge, this would give him more publicity, and she probably wants to do hip-hop records because that’s what people want. But she can’t make hip-hop because she’s not from that. She’s an opportunist, sort of like Drake. Except, here we have an artist who has culturally appropriated before, a country artist who clearly has no knowledge of hip-hop, who calls Drake asking for help stealing black culture and the first thing he thinks is, “Wow this is gonna be big online”.cccsJJVN.jpeg

I don’t care what you say in an interview, actions speak and so does money. Drake is selfish and shameless about how he’s just milking the culture for everything it has without any regard for what its doing to the culture. The worst part is I’m listening still. And Drake is a media clown, who knows just when to self-deprecate to his advantage but also how to just smile his way right out of a serious interview. Last night at a recent Raptors-Warriors game he wore a sweatshirt with a  picture of ESPN reporter Doris Burke captioned “Woman Crush Wednesday”. That is the cheesy humor of my adolescence yes, and that’s not a thing that a rapper like Gucci or Future or 2 Chainz would ever do. Rappers aren’t supposed to be dancing up and down on the sidelines heckling Kevin Durant and taking up half of ESPN’s airtime but Drake does because he can and it won’t matter. He’s the kid in the sandbox who built the biggest one and we’re letting him do what he wants so he doesn’t kick all the others over. Nobody wants to be Meek Mill and he’s married to Nicki Minaj. That’s all Drake’s doing. That’s too much power for us to leave in the hands of the Canadian with a fondness for short relationships with Hooters girls and for some reason the Kentucky Wildcats. The history of Drake the bandwagon fan is a whole other novel that I might write. I’m just saying we need to check ourselves before this guy lets Taylor Swift paint hip-hop with a very bland, white brush that will probably sell even if its just auto-tuned screams at this point because why not. Drake literally alienated himself from himself by not evolving past the stage he was at with Take Care fully ever. None of his old love was ever requited and he didn’t really mature about how to handle it either. He went away from forging new ground and relied on the streets to set the sound while he picked and chose what looked and sounded cool. He lost who he was somewhere in there, or maybe this just who he is. He is getting fat while people starve in this business because of his greed. I am not behind it. Drake-Doris-Burke-2-645x356.jpg