More Life: More Drake, More Controversy, More Hits

MORE LIFE

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Drake finally released “More Life”, his long awaited follow-up to Views on March 18th, via OVOSOUND Radio on Apple Music to widespread acclaim. The internets exploded in a fervor only to be soon matched by Kanye’s next rant or Beyonce giving birth. This was set up to be Drake’s Magnum Opus, a layup opportunity for a star with growing global influence. An instant classic. Drake fans are everywhere. There are teenagers in every corner of the world with Drake or his lyrics tattooed somewhere on their body. Aubrey Graham has been in the news near constantly in the last 2 years, mostly through much publicized beefs with Meek Mill and Cudi, and sometimes possibly Kanye West, who is featured on the album.

From here on out, I’ll stop referring to the album as an “album”. It’s titled as “A Playlist by October Firm” and a quick listen confirms that is exactly what it is. Drake is attempting to shed himself of the limits of an “album” concept, where a cohesive narrative is still very much valued by the hip-hop community at large. October Firm is the name of Drake and right-hand man, behind the scenes orchestrator Oliver El-Khatib, who it can be inferred creatively directed the vibe of the project. Drake has struggled with the idea of a narrative album, in my opinion most notably on “Views”, his last project, which to me undermined his coronation as the biggest in the game. The playlist concept proved to work on the “If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late” mixtape, which cemented Drake’s status as a hitmaker and permanent fixture in popular culture.

Drake fully embraces cultural influences from all corners of the world in this album, with distinctly dancehall sounds, afropop, and grime features. It’s a conglomeration of Drake’s claimed musical influences, and the culture of the city of Toronto. Immigrants from Jamaica, Africa, Haiti, South Asia, and the Middle East all against a Canadian backdrop. Drake has drawn criticism for suddenly adopting these cultural influences out of nowhere, and it’s fair to say this criticism has hurt his career somewhat. “More Life” is Drake going against any denial. Drake adopts a variety of sounds on the playlist, making some dancehall songs here that I could do without in terms of the front to back listen. The best tracks are produced by Murda Beatz, the 23 year old Canadian who’s produced hits for Migos among others. “Murda on the Beats so it’s not nice” is now the new “Metro Boomin want some mo” and it’s a beautiful thing with Quavo and Travis Scott backing Drake on vocals. “Portland” is the confirmed hit from this project and rightfully so. Murda masters the flute over a remarkably bouncy beat that makes the song undeniable, and Quavo demonstrates more star quality on an instantly infectious hook. Travis Scott demonstrates one of his little known skills, actually rapping, and makes me proud to be a consistent fan of his. He shows out on a song with two of the hottest out like he knows he’s a top 5 artist, and he is on this one.

Back to the strong worldwide influences on the album, the grime features on the album add an instant authenticity to the record that reflects the streets of Britain as much as it does the hidden hills of Calabasas. For those of you who didn’t know who Giggs was before now, the grime icon is featured twice on the playlist, with his typical low menacing tones masterfully riding arena production. KMT is a pretty blatant Xxxtentacion bite, but the beat and Giggs verse make it pretty hard not to listen to. Still #FreeX and everything, but “BATMAN, DAH DAH DAH, DAH-DAH” has never been said before on a rap song, and the fact that it’s Giggs on a Drake album sort of feels right in 2017. It’s good that grime is finally getting the worldwide exposure it deserves. These guys live and breath authenticity, and Skepta has been the leading figure in grime’s worldwide image for a while now. His album, “Konnichiwa”, has been in my frequent rotation since it dropped last year, and is honestly one of my favorite albums ever. “Skepta Interlude” is Drake giving Skepta an entire song to basically just go off, and therefore giving him the perfect platform to broaden his reach and the reach of grime. He destroys it, as typical, and for those of you who can’t get with the accent, do your research, listen to a grime playlist one time, and you’ll get it. The energy is on another level, especially given the current slow lean obsessed state of popular hip-hop in this country.

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The 2 Chainz feature is notable and shows that the Duffel Bag Boy is in a zone leading up up to his next album which is expected to come out in the near future. 2 Chainz really doesn’t care, and his talent is just spilling the contents of his vibrant imagination in hilarious and sometimes very poignant bars. He got famous for being infectious, and his presence is felt on the album. Young Thug also spits a verse that makes you think you can understand exactly what he’s saying on first listen, run it back, and then realize he’s actually speaking much more clearly for some reason. But it’s actually fire, and catchy in typical Thugger fashion. Drake got everybody on this one, even Kanye West on “Glow”, an undeniably catchy song that feels like it was recorded in one night. Kanye leads the track with a classic few bars about when “me and being broke broke-up” that again validate Kanye as an artist who is still doing it on an iconic level. Kanye’s legacy to me is going to forever be more influential than Drake’s, just because Kanye has otherworldly talent that Drake hasn’t demonstrated.

Drake works hard, and consistent improvement in numbers and reach every album proves that despite the criticism. It’s hard to listen to a Drake album and love it as a fan of music knowing that he might really only be responsible for the vocals. I’m not trying to be all pro-Meek Mill, but that controversy never really came to an actual resolution for me. Quentin Miller and his reference tracks are real things. The fact that Drake pulls from so many different influences, and throws a wide variety of features on the 22 song playlist make this album similar to Views for me. Yeah it’s what Drake’s giving us at this point, and there will be some songs off of here that’ll be spun into oblivion for the next 8-12 months. But is it a classic? After at least five front to back listens at this point, I have to say no. It’s a playlist in the truest sense, just a mix of vibes and attempts at capturing all sides of culture. It’s the play of a man on the road to world domination who’s plagued by too many insecurities to trust himself to innovate in his own lane. There are fewer and fewer people doing it now, and it’s an actual problem for the integrity of music. The innovation is happening on Soundcloud and overseas right now, and Drake is smart enough to realize that and use it to his advantage.

“More Life” is good in the sense that it gives these artists a bigger platform, but bad in the sense that it borrows too much from them. Again, how many of these songs will you have in pop up back in regular rotation a year and a half from now? If you’re already a die-hard Drake fan, a lot of them, and if you’re a skeptic like me, you’ll just keep going back to Skepta and Giggs while telling yourself you’re not really listening to the last Drake album again. “More Life” is a Jamaican saying to wish someone well, and Drake doesn’t exactly project positivity on this one project. He goes at Kid Cudi again, a possible veiled Jay-Z diss on “Free Smoke” and repeated Meek Mill shots. He thrives off of vulnerability, and he reflects the emotional state of many people in 2017. Anxious, self-conscious, sometimes irritable, it relates well to so many that this record will definitely go platinum in streams. I feel old when I wish that the invulnerable 50 Cent era was back, and rappers were still superheroes. The people need a voice, and Drake has been chosen. And if he doesn’t turn into Will Smith and just act forever now, one thing’s for sure: there’ll be More.

Interview: Daniel Nielsen, photographer

by Lucas Reiman

Daniel Nielsen is an aspiring photographer from Des Moines. I went to school with Daniel for four years of high school and grew up playing youth sports with him. His ability with a camera after taking photography seriously for only four years is inspiring and drives me to continue my own photography. I am incredibly proud to know him and am proud to be able to share a bit more about him. I sat down with him during this winter break to get his journey in photography  and to listen to some of his opinion on the photography world.

 

26: Give us a little Background about yourself.

D: I am 18 years old and I am from West Des Moines, Iowa. I graduated high school from Dowling Catholic in West Des Moines and I currently attend the University of Northern Iowa.

26: What are you studying in school?

D: I am currently an environmental science major and I plan on adding a photo journalism minor in the spring.

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26: What got you interested in photography/filmmaking?

D: I have always been really into making videos since I was in middle school. I would try to make short films with my friends. I always had a camera on me in those days and it led me to go and buy my own personal DSLR. I bought a Canon T3 and I used it for photos and short films. Once I got the Canon, that really inspired me to pursue more of photography.

26: Was it easy for you to learn or was there a slight learning curve?

D: Transition from film making to photography wasn’t easy. My film making past made the technical side of operating a camera easier but I had so much that I still needed to learn. It took me a while to get really confident in my work.

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26: Do you think too many people are photographers?

D: I don’t think there are too many photographers but I do feel like there are a lot of people who give up too soon.

26: Do you feel there is often a stigma against people trying to get into photography?

D: Yeah I feel that sometimes new photographers are knocked for trying to get into the field. Some photographers react this because they may feel threatened that a new photographer could steal their style. I honestly don’t get it though because every photographer at one point was new to it. I feel that photographers should try and be mentors to new photographers.

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26: Do you wish you would’ve had a mentor through your growing process?

D: Yes, to an extent because I could’ve grown quicker but I learned so much on my own. All the information I’ve learned on my own has been incredible and I’m glad on the way I got here.

26: Opinions on people doing photography just for the sole purpose of being popular/liked?

D: I’m not going to judge but sometimes I feel that people forget about the art of photography and use it as a way to get popular. I’m not going to bash on people who enjoy it for the attention, that just isn’t the reason I’m in photography.

26: Do you feel good equipment is super necessary or should the technique come before the gear?

D:  Passion I think should come before gear. You often can get away with having good equipment even with poor technique.

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26: Advice for new photographers/filmmakers?

D: Take lots of photos. I did a project where I took a photo every single day for an entire year and I learned so much about how to take quality photos in that year.

26: Favorite shoot?

D: I did an engagement shoot at it was a lot of fun. Capturing all of the emotions between the couple was incredible.

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26: Would you ever do something even more emotional like a wedding?

D: Definitely not at the moment because it is a huge responsibility to capture something that important. Maybe in the future but I don’t really have any interest in doing any weddings.

26: Favorite photo?

D: It was a photo taken early morning at clear lake. I just thought it was such a cool shot with the amount of fog blocking out any view of the actual lake but the color of the dock just makes everything pop out. I am always asked how much touch up was done to the photo and all that was done was a bit of color touch up on the dock. That’s why this photo is my favorite because I didn’t have to do a lot to it.

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26: Instagram, Twitter or VSCO

D: Instagram

26: Dream destination to do one shoot at?

D: Alaska is a huge dream of mine. I don’t think it is photographed enough and I would love to explore the state and photography my trip.
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26: Favorite photography social media accounts?

D: Jason Charles Hill, Matt Cherubino, Andrew kearns, Ben Brown, Rj Bruni, Sam Kolder, Eric Pfohl (friend from UNI), just to name a few off the top of my head.

26: Where do you see, photography taking you?

D: At this point it is just a hobby but I want to take it with me into my career. I would love to use photography and videography over the environment to make every day citizens more aware of Earth.

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Thank you to Daniel for taking the time to do this interview with me. Please go support him by sharing his work or just follow him on his social media pages.

 

Website: nielsenvisuals.com

YouTube: Daniel Nielsen

Instagram: @danielsen02

Twitter: @danielsen02

 

Is J.Cole Actually Good? – 4 Your Eyez Only Review

by Jacob McKayscreen-shot-2015-08-05-at-12-57-48-pm

J.Cole has somehow become one of the most polarizing rappers in the game after a steady, well-documented rise to the top of the hip-hop stratosphere. Since signing to Jay-Z’s Roc Nation imprint, Jermaine Cole has amassed a loyal enough fanbase to go platinum with no features, a feat that none of his contemporaries in rap have attempted successfully. His last album, 2014 Forest Hills Drive, earned him a plethora of sales, acclaim, and sold out tour dates. These are the hallmarks of perennial hip-hop all star status. At this point, you should probably be in somebody’s top 5. But as of late, many a debate has popped up on the internet about Cole’s place as a hip-hop star. People have attacked his music for varying reasons, some saying his bars really aren’t that great, others citing lackluster instrumentals, others saying he isn’t good enough to be able to go platinum without any features. The common knock on him has been that his music has always been a little boring for some. But the sales are in and the people have spoken, at least leading up to his newest album, 4 Your Eyez Only, a surprise release that, like its predecessor, only features Cole. In preparation for this review, I polled the blogs Twitter followers asking them the simple question, “Is J.Cole good?” The overwhelming majority of respondents said yes, which prompted me to do my own poll asking a slightly narrower question, “Is J.Cole a top 5 rapper?” 54% of respondents said yes, and 24% said no but he made it into their top 10. That’s a pretty incredible approval rating among the youth, which prompted me to do some intense listening to this new project to see if it was worthy of another platinum run. This album confirmed J. Cole’s place as a “boring rapper” for some people, and he possibly slid more into that category for me after multiple listens. It’s easy listening for a rap album, with a pretty similar instrumental vibe from front to back. At only 10 songs, it’s long enough to listen to about a time and a half without realizing you started over. And that’s the problem. Its sound is cohesive but almost to a fault, even if the storyline falters. The notes he’s hitting in his sing-song attempts on some of the choruses are always very similar, and the actual singing performance is better on some songs than others. I found myself wishing for a feature, here or there, just to match Cole’s bars with an industry standard hook to see what it would sound like. 4 Your Eyez is sound in terms of its storytelling, which has always been Cole’s strongest point as a lyricist. He disses Kanye on “False Prophets”, a promo single that isn’t on the album, for what Cole views as Ye’s fall from grace and inability to make the music he used to make. Dissing Kanye is a thing that basically nobody has successfully done, and immediately on hearing Cole’s shot I wanted nothing more than for Kanye to put him in his place. Rapper Heems of Das Racist described at best as J.Cole dissing a guy who just got out of the hospital over a ripped-off Joey Bada$$ beat to promote his album. That’s exactly what it is. The internet reacted in various ways to the actual diss but I treat it in the same way I treated Drake coming after Cudi after he went to rehab. This is the rap climate we have bred, but we also need to call out people for punching below the belt or above their weight class or else it just turns into WWE. Hip-hop works best when it feels like boxing. Contenders fight at their weight, and the winner is always controversial.

Cole was also called out for ripping off a beat that Bryson Tiller used on his wildly popular debut, TRAPSOUL. These knocks hold weight for me as a music fan. I don’t like when people take each others work without credit, but I really don’t like when people recycle beats and slap other names on half-assed tracks. That’s okay on a mixtape, but that shouldn’t go platinum. But what is authenticity anymore? Do fans even value that in music? When Kanye comes back at Cole, with a piece of music much better than what Cole dropped over an old beat, I hope you recognize that Cole is not one of the greats of all time.  2014 Forest Hills Drive went platinum during a time when the market was starving for new hip-hop, and the hype surrounding the attempt to go platinum with no features definitely aided the actual sales of that album. I thought that album was good, but it wasn’t my favorite from that time period and I never really go back and listen. The issue for me with this new project is it has even fewer songs that I will want to go back and listen to over again. I think if you separate the hype from the actual project, solid storytelling, but not enough meat in a 10 song project for me to say this thing should go platinum. In my eyes, J.Cole is suddenly becoming Swift-ified, a phenomenon that occurs when your fan’s friends will buy the music just to stay culturally relevant. Drake is already well past this point, where the quality of the actual music can be suspect, and actually decrease over time, with the opposite effect in cultural relevance. We’ve become obsessed with speed and quantity over quality, and this is a short album that seems hastily arranged, despite it’s cohesive sound. Cole presents this album as a long story about a friend of his that he’s trying to tell to that friends daughter. That’s supposed to be the theme of this work, but most of the songs are still just about Cole. The songs are too bare and sparse in some places, and the melodies too unrefined. None of them have the sense of urgency that a great rap album needs. I hate to say it but Cole wouldn’t really be hurt that bad by using some help. The hooks on this project are simply too lackluster for me to call it great, regardless of their catchiness. On his other promo single, Everybody Dies, Cole seemingly goes at Lil Yachty and basically this years entire XXL freshman class, calling them “piss-poor rappers”.

The diss itself was another promo attempt but what’s funny to me is, none of the Yachty’s, or 21 Savage’s or Lil Uzi Vert’s are going to care. And also, J.Cole has worse hooks on his album than a lot of them have on mix-tapes. And for somebody who’s trying to keep hip-hop honest, J.Cole needs to sing less. I finally agree with Fantano on this one. It’s not awful but that’s why features are fun sometimes, especially for somebody calling people out as confidently as you all have given Cole the power to do. He’s the platinum-with-no-features guy who in my opinion is always going to be chasing, certainly never eclipsing his peers. His disappearing act would’ve been way more impressive had he come back with more than 10 songs. Yeezus was 10 songs, but in those 10 songs Kanye went everywhere. Cole stays in a pretty familiar, mundane place in these 10. I’m not seeing a ton of growth, which is what keeps you at the top. We’ll see what happens when this one goes platinum without really deserving to. Is he good? Yes, as I’ve said, he’s a great storyteller with a smooth delivery. But greatness is about separating yourself from the rest…and in how many places does Cole really do that musically on this album?

Listen here:

https://open.spotify.com/embed/album/3CCnGldVQ90c26aFATC1PW

 

Poetry review: Milk and Honey

by Jack Miles

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Milk and Honey is no ordinary poetry book. It is raw, relatable and full of emotion through to the core. The book deals with abuse, love, loss, and femininity. The book is split into four chapters, each one dealing with a different pain, specifically involving relationships. Though some of the poems may seem unoriginal, Rupi Kaur takes readers through the most bitter points in her life and finds the silver lining beneath. Overall, though, I found this book to be just a little underwhelming.

Most reviews I have heard said it was the most beautiful thing they had ever read, but honestly the book was a bit plain. Many of the poems in this book were a bit unoriginal, especially when it came to the whole empowerment of women and feminism aspect. The idea that women want a man and don’t need a man is something I have heard over and over again for years. Not that these topics are not important, but Kaur makes her points in a very “vanilla” fashion. For example, on one page in the third chapter it simply says:

“love is not cruel

we are cruel

love is not a game

we have made a game

out of love.”

This, and many other poems in her book, seem just very cliché and “already done”. Many of her poems seem like something that would appear inside of a fortune cookie:

“give to those who have nothing to give you.”

“some people are so bitter… to them you must be kindest.”

These are just a few examples.

Many of the poems in this book have been compared to things found on Twitter and Tumblr, which could be the authors intent; panning to a much younger, more modern audience. To me, this seemed a bit cheap and effortless which is unfortunate because I can tell Kaur poured copious amounts of emotion into this project. Along with the simple feel to the writing, the formatting in this book seems somewhat random and choppy. The lines and stanzas seem to cut out at odd places, causing for weird pauses in dialogue when reading through the works. Aside from the generic feel to the poems, most of this book really lacks lyricism; most of the works read just like regular everyday sentences, especially in the last chapter of the book. The points and ideas in the book are good, I only wish the author had conveyed them a bit more poetically.

There were many things I liked about this book, though. Many of the poems from the first chapters of the book were based off real experiences the author had with physical and sexual abuse. These poems were very moving and impactful because she dug up those emotions she felt during the attacks and portrayed it in an extremely vivid and visual way. For example, one poem that hit me quite hard was:

“he guts her

with his fingers

like he’s scraping

the inside of a

cantaloupe clean”

Some of her writing can be so descriptive, the book touches on all five of the human senses.

I really enjoyed reading the stories about her life and personal experiences much more than some of the more pandering poems towards the end of the book. For example, she tells us about the first boy who kissed her:

“The first boy that kissed me

held my shoulders down

like the handlebars of

the first bicycle

he ever rode

I was five

 

He had the smell of

starvation on his lips

which he picked up from

his father feasting on his mother at 4 a.m.

 

he was the first boy

to teach me my body was

for giving to those that wanted

that I should feel anything

less than whole

 

and my god

did I feel as empty

as his mother at 4:25 a.m.”

This is by far my favorite poem in the book because I have never experienced what it is like to be a woman who has been sexually assaulted and this piece gave me just a little taste; it is easy to empathize with the author in this poem, and many others.

This leads me to another reason why I liked this book and why I personally think it is so popular. It is super relatable. Anyone who has gone through a bad break up, been in an unhealthy relationship, or just has relationship problems in general should read this book. Despite the slight lack of artistic flair in these poems, so many times was I reading this book and felt like she was speaking to exact moments and experiences I have had in my own life.

“I don’t want to be friends; I want all of you.”

This is a line from the third chapter of the book. I’m sure everyone has had someone who they are just friends with who they wish could be so much more.

I believe there is a time and place to read this book: directly after you break up with a significant other. When we end a relationship with someone who was once a big part of our life, we feel all sorts of strange emotions and think “crazy” thoughts that we believe no one else understands. Rupi Kaur understands. Milk and Honey is there for you when nobody else is; it is a voice that tells you that what you feel is natural and others have been in your shoes before. You are not alone.

This book might not be 100% beautiful, aesthetically pleasing art but it serves a great purpose for young people, especially women, who might be struggling with relationships and self-image. I believe the only reason I did not enjoy this book more is because I was not in the correct state of mind when I read it. If you are having difficulty letting go of someone, doubting your self-worth, or confused about how to move on, I would highly recommend this book.

Concert Stories: Mad Decent Block Party

I went to Mad Decent Block Party in Kansas City over Labor day weekend on a whim. I bought the tickets like a week prior with a friend while at West End. We had no lodging plans, only knew a couple of the performers, but we were in too deep already. We drove to Kansas City and met up at a friend’s hotel room. Eventually we had a group of ten or so and we headed to the venue. I had taken a little acid in the hotel room and had a capsule of MDMA taped to my thigh. Unfortunately, it was hot as hell, so the capsule melted, but I managed to salvage a little molly. After taking the molly, I was offered more acid.. and I accepted. We were all in the heart of the pit, enjoying that sweet, sweet bass. I left to get water about an hour and a half in. I pulled out my phone to answer a text, and BAM! The acid from the hotel was in full force. I was separated from my friends in an unfamiliar city, surrounded by unfamiliar people tripping balls. I posted up on the balcony to watch the controlled chaos unfold below. I was mesmerized by the crowd and the DJ’s ability to seemingly control their every action. I saw the raw, animalistic desires of human sexuality, and the beauty of genuine friendship… I also saw that humans are pretty nasty sometimes, especially when alcohol is involved… I spent a few hours contemplating what sets humans apart from the rest of the animal kingdom, and then the mini-festival was over and I was sitting in the parking lot of the hotel with my best friend, chatting about our varied experiences. she had spent the entire night dancing, i had spent the entire night trying to control my psychosis. A young man floated across the parking lot towards us and joined the conversation. He and I ended up vibing well, so we went for a walk around two in the morning. My friend stayed behind at the hotel. This guy and myself spent eight hours walking around Kansas City, ending up ten miles away from the hotel. We discussed numerology, angels, past lives, and the idea that nothing is coincidental… It may have been the drugs, but I was fully convinced that this kid was an angel sent to give me some divine guidance. Overall, the music was good, I learned a lot about human nature, and I made a very interesting friend. This is the main point: be spontaneous, buy that ticket, go to that show.

Welcome

26th and Cottage Grove was an idea we had at a certain intersection a year ago. We wanted to spread our love and knowledge of clothing, music, and culture with whoever would listen. We started out with a podcast, and the vision has grown into a full blown content distribution site. We intend to give you reviews and updates on the latest developments in what you should wear, listen to, and be generally aware of. We will be completely and brutally honest, but objective in the same sense. There’s no limit to where each of us can go, and we’re here to provide you with essential cultural literacy. What’s cool? What’s new? We might have some idea. See you at the grove.

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