Pusha-T: DAYTONA

For approximately 3 months in 9th grade, I thought Pusha-T’s voice belonged to Cyhi Da Prynce. In my defense, I had just started seriously listening to music and they were almost always on GOOD Friday singles together. Once I cleared up the case of mistaken identity, I was hooked on Terrence Thornton. Here’s a brief summary of what he’s been up to since then:
Fear of God sucked so bad we collectively repressed the memory of “Touch It”, but Part II was a great record that answered the question of whether Pusha-T could survive in a rap ecosystem a decade removed from Clipse’s debut album. Wrath of Caine took a darker approach, with a sonic template indebted to a young Travi$ $cott and the drill movement. 2013’s My Name Is My Name pushed that envelope further, the beats starker and weirder, the rapping somehow even sharper and more vicious. Darkest Before Dawn, the nominal prelude to King Push, took the darker tone of MNIMN further, cutting the radio friendly guest features of his first two solo albums in favor of a more insular approach.
And now we’re here: DAYTONA, a 7 track EP being billed as an album, solely produced by Kanye West himself. A lot has changed since Pusha first signed to GOOD Music, but he remains a committed stoic, a cocaine-dealing superhero, more myth than man. But stoicism by any other name is stagnancy, and the cracks in Pusha’s armor have never been more apparent.
When it comes to subject matter, DAYTONA breaks no new ground, but no one came to a Pusha record for anything else. But have his drug talk and luxury boasts ever sounded so uninspired? Dated references to Pink Floyd, Raekwon, and Al Roker bring to mind classic tweets about generational divides. And while Pusha has never tried branding himself as “woke,” hearing him say “I won’t let you ruin my dreams or Harvey Weinstein the kid / Good morning, Matt Lauer, can I live?” on “Hard Piano” is jarring and gross. And Pusha’s propensity for weak and/or maudlin hooks hasn’t changed; “Hard Piano” and “Santeria” come bearing egregiously awkward choruses, while “Games We Play” and “What Would Meek Do?” only avoid such mishaps by paring hooks down to a single line or bar.
And on the topic of stagnancy and cracked armor, executive producer Mr. West does not acquit himself well. The inverted-”Bound 2” structure of “Come Back Baby” is gnarly and inspired, and both “Santeria” and “What Would Meek Do?” carry the atmosphere of a certain Elm Street. But the remaining tracks carry little charm or menace; they scan as tired retreads of his early work, before he was the first rapper with a Benz and a backpack. “Games We Play” is the only nostalgia play that works, anchored by a dusty, loping piano line, horn stabs and an earworm of a guitar riff.
The features are fine, unlikely to make you feel any type of way. Rick Ross’s verse holds no new surprises, save that Ross is, for some reason, still rapping? Kanye continues doubling down on his beloved MAGA hat; to answer his questions, no, he isn’t too complex for ComplexCon, what 2Pac wouldn’t do is endorse Donald Trump, and who wants to know what a seven pill night feels like anyway? Continuing an annoying trend from “Ye vs. The People,” he ends the verse with a 4th-wall break; never before has Mr. West been so desperate for public validation, and so unlikely to receive it.
Ultimately the only thing surprising about DAYTONA is the thing I least expected: the spark is gone. Whatever made Pusha-T rap with demented glee alongside Tyler, the Creator, the disdain he had for your lesser luxuries, none of it is present. What’s left is some shit for the old heads. I hope Joe Budden enjoyed it.

Lil Tay: A Brief Overview

Lil Tay has been making big waves this month. The nine year old, previously known for her provocative instagram videos (she likes to swear and discuss precisely how broke you are), was seen first in a video alongside Chief Keef on April 7th, before clips surfaced of an April 15th altercation between Bhad Bhabie, Woahh Vicki, and Lil Tay herself. According to Bhad Bhabie, conflict arose after Lil Tay and Woahh Vicki called Bregoli’s best friend a “dumb n*****,” leading Bhabie to challenge them to a fight outside a mall (both Woahh Vicky and Lil Tay frequently use the n-word online). Lil Tay has previously gotten into internet beef with youtuber Ricegum, who you probably don’t remember from the time he made a Jake Paul diss; open conflict with Bhad Bhabie seems just as much about courting internet clout as it does personal differences and bigotry.

Digging up information on Lil Tay online proves difficult; her instagram has been repeatedly deleted (probably because you have to be 13 to have an account), and Tay has only done a single interview to date, focused primarily on her music rather than the artist herself. While we don’t know who Lil Tay’s parents are, her old twitter bio claimed the account was run by her mom, who may be the woman seen adjusting a Glo Gang headband for Tay in the aforementioned Chief Keef clip. It’s also safe to surmise Lil Tay’s parents are extremely loaded, given their daughter’s penchant for rocking Gucci and Vuitton.

Now, the music: “Money Way” by Lil Tay is a boilerplate trap track for 2018, clearly derived from the Lil Pump formula, but substituting the shock value of a 9 year old white girl for Pump’s oddball charisma (note: Lil Tay may be half-Asian, specifically Filipino?). Two months prior to the March release of “Money Way” came “On My Wrist,” with lower production value and even less attempts at “rapping;” that’s probably why that song remains unavailable on major streaming services.

Lil Tay shocks on first encounter, but the trends precipitating her rise have been apparent for a minute. White rappers have been en vogue since the 2010s started, typically at the edge of the scene but increasingly carving out larger and larger swaths of territory. In the last year, we’ve seen G-Eazy and Lil Pump go #1 while hewing closer to traditional rap aesthetics of the moment.

The success of rappers like Rich Brian (FKA Rich Chigga) in translating vine personality into hip-hop star power presaged the current wave of rappers utilizing a personality-first model to break big (think Boonk Gang and Woahh Vicky). And this digital incarnation of the cult of personality is just a retooling of how celebrities and reality television stars used to parlay screen success into studio smashes (Paris Hilton and Tila Tequila both had short-lived musical careers; Bhad Bhabie rose to infamy on Dr. Phil). And we would be remiss not to cite the talented-as-hell (fight me) Matt Ox, a 13 year old white rapper who performed at the same illroots party as Chief Keef, boxed with fellow-Philadelphian Lil Uzi Vert, and contributed a standout hook to “$$$” off XXXTentacion’s recent #1 album.

Rumors are currently swirling that Lil Tay has signed a record deal of some sort, though there appears to be no official substantiating evidence. And while she’s currently making the rounds as a meme, much like Matt Ox and Bhad Bhabie before her, there is a clear dearth of musicality that ought to preclude her from capitalizing off her 15 minutes of fame in the same way. Moreover, it seems hard to believe that Tay will remain attached to the idea of rapping; she seems more preoccupied with flexing, using well-worn hip-hop tropes to accentuate the flex as opposed to flexing to highlight her rap bonafides. If Rich Brian asked “what if all the aesthetic markers of a rapper were transplanted onto a figure with absolutely no connection to them,” Lil Tay asks “what if all the aesthetic markers of a rapper were transplanted onto a figure with absolutely no connection to them and no interest in performing that connection?” While the answer might amuse for a moment, the moment is quickly passing.

No, Nicki Minaj is Not Guilty of Cultural Appropriation

This is why we can’t have nice things. After announcing two singles this week, Nicki Minaj found herself under fire for perceived cultural appropriation after dropping the artwork for “Chun-Li.” The title refers to the character from Street Fighter II, the first female character in a fighting game, while the artwork depicts Minaj decked out in Fendi and sporting Chun-Li’s signature “ox horn” hairstyle.

Let’s start with the obvious: we’re talking about a character in a videogame. If we consider Minaj’s new single appropriation, we would implicitly be accepting the premise that Chun-Li is somehow a Chinese cultural touchstone, despite being programmed by a group of American and Japanese men with little regard for political correctness. As NPR noted in 2014, Street Fighter is filled with racist caricatures and ethnic stereotypes, from Russian characters who fight bears to Indian ones who fight with yoga. While Chun-Li’s character design sees her wearing a revamped qipao (a traditional 20th century Chinese dress), her cultural connection is superficial at best.

Secondly, the song itself barely focuses on Chun-Li at all. Much like 2015’s “Shanghai,” Minaj’s lyrical content is preoccupied with flexing and stunting, notably free of cringe-worthy Orientalism present on songs like Migos’s “Chinatown” (Quavo’s “ching-chong” adlib is painfully ridiculous). The track uses Chun-Li as an avatar of female power, placing her in the company of Lara Croft and Storm. This lends itself to a much more benign reading than Minaj’s detractors have intially suggested.

Third, and perhaps most critically, accusing Minaj of cultural appropriation mistakenly suggests the power dynamics at play are the same as when Katy Perry dressed as a geisha or Iggy Azalea put on a blaccent. Antiblackness is rampant in Asian communities, and Asians in the West tend to lean in on the myth of the model minority in order to gain standing under white supremacy. Consider the recent incidence of blackface on Chinese state television, salt in the wound of China’s economic exploitation of various African nations. To suggest a black woman has the privilege to appropriate Chinese culture seems inane at face value, let alone after critical analysis.

While some have defended Minaj by citing her Asian heritage, this strikes me as misguided; born in Trinidad and Tobago, Minaj’s heritage traces back to South Asia, rather than East Asia. Even considering cultural diffusion across the continent, I cannot in good faith suggest that Minaj has any more “right” to Chinese culture than I do as an American of Indian descent.

This conversation highlights the ways social justice discourse has, for better or worse, permeated online culture, and how the buzzword-ification of various topics has led to their dilution, being tossed around without proper understanding of their origin or context. Feel free to get up in arms when the music video drops and is chockful of Orientalist stereotypes, but until then, let’s just revel in the return of the queen.

DRELLI – Jurassic [prod. dannytv]

https://soundcloud.com/drellimusic/jurassic-1

Drelli makes cheerful “swagbop” rap jams that make you want to bounce around dancing. We’re extremely pumped to premiere his new track “Jurassic,” produced by dannytv, just in time for you to play it for your special someone this Valentine’s. And if you’re just playing it alone at home, it makes a perfect soundtrack for “rolling up that cat piss.” Expect 2018 to be filled with effervescent music from the young Ghana-via-Minneapolis rapper.

FEB 4 – FEB 10: TOP 5 TOP 5 TOP 5

“play with us then he get cut like a brick”

the beat on “arcadia” has the insistence of a classic neptunes track filtered thru 5 years of soundcloud rap. Some synths slither around the background as others burble up around PBC President Lil Paycheck, who continues to showcase a high degree of versatility in both his choice of beats and his vocal approaches to tracks. Full of growled shit talking, this track is a flash in the pan that indicates we’ll be getting more fire from Paycheck later this year.

 

“I’m so fresh I need a fuckin lint brush”

The first two bars of “T’d Up” are a quick headfake: the somber piano chords quickly give way to a rewound melody and Mike WiLL and Metro Boomin’s signature cavernous 808s and stuttering hi-hats, respectively. And while the first 2 verses are thoroughly enjoyable, it’s the third verse by Swae Lee where things accelerate to the stratosphere. A quick flow switch announces a singsong verse full of simple flexes about trips to the bank and late nights of debauchery. SremmLife 3 on the way.

 

“feeling good, yeah i’m feeling polite, and we’re moving all night, all night, all night”

A standout on Lenae’s just-released Crush EP, “The Night Song” has a comparatively subdued backing track when juxtaposed against the rest of the EP. This allows Lenae’s vocals and cascading harmonies to take centerstage, her voice matching the dreamy qualities of the instrumental. The whispery vocals of the prechorus in particular invite comparisons to various female R&B artists of the past five years, but that would do Lenae, her contemporaries, and her forebears a disservice; Steve Lacy’s executive production can be distinctly felt all over the record, and combined with Lenae’s vocal prowess, creates a sound at once distinct and warmly familiar.

 

“don’t even ask me for the weed you ain’t matching”

Wiz Khalifa’s last project, the “commercial mixtape” Laugh Now, Fly Later saw the rapper enter a lane similar to fellow stoner Curren$y: surprisingly good, and more than ever, startlingly consistent. New single “Captain” continues in this vein, with a sticky hook and a pinging beat courtesy of E. Dan. Wiz’s autotuned singing is neither grating nor barely tolerable, but actually enjoyable, almost disorientingly so. And while Khalifa isn’t coming for the spiritual lyrical miracle crown any time soon, his repeated chants of “what’s happening?” don’t wear thin due to smart rhymes that go hand in hand with this song’s club-ready vibe.

 

“I want my revenge on all y’all”

Those piano chords have been waiting for Lil Boat for 48 years (originally from Baba O’Riley by The Who). Digital Nas flips the classic chords into an unorthodox and playful beat for Yachty to tear into, and not since Summer 6ixteen has a song filled me with such seething rage at those who have wronged me. “Revenge” feels like a throwback for Yachty, bringing to mind this flip of the Rugrats Theme. This song sticks out among recent Yachty songs for two reasons. One, Yachty’s melody-infused rapping and the way lines float off into sustained singing feel highly reminiscent of his early work, the Lil Boat many felt was missing from Teenage Emotions. And two, his use of adlibs, clearly influenced by his proximity to the Migos, particularly Offset. If this is an indicator of what we can expect from Yachty in the future, those who wrote him off after his first album will be sorely mistaken.

 

JAN 28 – FEB 3: TOP 5 TOP 5 TOP 5

realization/all the temptation

Dizzy Fae’s debut mixtape Free Form is charming and intriguing, full of various vocal approaches to songs packed with plush synths that feel like they time travelled from the past and future to coexist in the now. Closing track “Don’t Hate For Me” pulses along a strident groove, and Fae matches its throbbing energy, telling a lover, “[I’m] grown as fuck, I don’t really care what you do.” Fae’s vocals are clear-eyed and her lyrics are refreshingly honest, relatable both to those scorned by a callous lover and those who had to be a little callous to protect their energy. Based on this tape, we can expect Fae to be around for a minute, but this record will keep giving for even longer. Put it on for your friends or your lover and get down to this ASAP.

 

“i’ve seen every hieroglyph and monument i need to see”

I stan for BXHXLD and have for a fucking minute. This review isn’t me speaking to you as a music critic, but as an unabashed fan. His album Everything You’ve Heard About Me Is True is due out on the 23rd, exec produced by the artist himself and notable Young Thug engineer Alex Tumay. New single “Control” has a distinctly Prince-ian aesthetic and feels like the soundtrack for a chase scene in a 1980s slasher flick. When he insists, “you are the one in control,” it’s not just an empty affirmation, but a reassuring mantra after what felt like the longest January of my life. 2018 energy: “We’ll never die/we are anointed.”

 

gasolina all inside my blunt

https://soundcloud.com/luvliltraffic/see-me-p-arthur

Daddy Yankee is back in vogue thanks to Despacito and Cardi B, and the hook on “see me” knows it. ARTHUR presents Lil Traffic with a hard-knocking beat and when it drops 4 measures in, it lands like a bolt of lightning. Much like “bounce out” from last month, Traffic’s vocals are distorted by a layer of digital static, like the soundcloud equivalent of the way a vinyl record crackles. But where “bounce out” is slinky and melodic, “see me” is brash and insistent, crashing and tumbling out of your speakers to demand you turn the fuck up to this.

 

i’ll pretend i don’t see you texting, you’ll pretend you don’t see me wylin

Tommy Genesis going full No Doubt on “Lucky” literally turned me into white_guy_blinking.gif in real life; I can’t remember the last time a song made me do such a hard double take. While Genesis has showcased her ear for melody before, it was usually in service of more hip-hop indebted tracks (see: “All My Friends” with Slug Christ). I keep running this song back and wondering if it’s a one-off or a fresh start, if her next record will be more like this or previous single “Tommy.” But ultimately, it doesn’t matter at all; I just feel lucky to have heard this track at all.

 

“clip long like a unibrow so my glock it name Helga”

There are so many legendary stories and myths that swirl around Chicago’s exiled son Chief Keef; the speeding ticket, the paintball match in a mansion, the $6 million deal with Interscope. At the heart of it all is a musician with talents not just on the mic, but behind the boards. So it was a treat to catch multiple beats by Turbo on Gunna’s new tape Drip Season 3. “At The Hotel” swirls around a moody piano and a sonorous flute line, both of which sound like you’re hearing them from the opposite end of a space station aquarium. Both Gunna and Young Jordan (FKA So Icy Jordan) hold their own, but Lil Uzi Vert steals the show with a surprisingly straightforward verse with a flow switch right before the aforementioned Hey Arnold! reference.

DON’T DO IT FOR THE CULTURE

Last night, Migos dropped a 24 song slog album. Somehow, even though the record is 9 hours old as I write this, approximately 85% of twitter has a half-formed opinion about it. More interesting than the record itself are those behind the music, caught time and again with the proverbial foot in their homophobic mouths.

In an era obsessed with deeming things “classic or trash,” we also love to deem things “woke or broke.” And when we find something decidedly broke, we love to find ways to excuse the actions of the people behind the microphone, either by accepting half baked apologies or contorting ourselves like knotted up earbud cables.

And of course, when it comes to Migos, their behavior falls more neatly into hip-hop history and what we, as a society, have deemed permissible. After all, they’re just using some unsavory words, which barely registers in a country so desensitized to violence, whether linguistic or physical. On top of this, the shift of music to streaming obscures the flow of money, and easily lends itself to the bystander effect: it doesn’t matter if I stream this person’s music, because it’s really only a fraction of a cent, and anyway, other people with greater moral fortitude won’t.

Personally, I’m of the opinion that on a micro level, very little of what we do matters. No, I don’t stream XXXTentacion’s music, but Capitol Records president Steve Barnett still took time out of his day to tell uneasy execs working under him that XXX was economically worth the moral malfunction. After a certain point, it’s easy to throw your hands up, say fuck it, and listen to some Kodak Black, or Rich the Kid, or Chris Brown, or R. Kelly, or Famous Dex, or 6ix9ine, or or or (And to be clear: white artists are just as abusive and sick: think Brand New’s Jesse Lacey, The Gaslamp Killer, Real Estate’s ex-guitarist Matt Mondanile, to name just a few)

The flip to this is that we have to be able to stomach the culture we create and enable. Action Bronson really said Close up of Drunk Mexican Tranny after Bes poured a Bottle of water on its head” in an instagram caption, and 4 years later he has a tv show where he gets paid to travel and eat delicious food. Fuck that’s disheartening. And as much as I would like to claim the fault lies with the artist, or the cultural gatekeepers, or the record label executives, or or or… at some point, I, like many of you, have to face the fact that when it comes to music, we vote with our ears every time we open Spotify. Migos’s homophobia is so jarring not due to its violence, or its obscenity, but because of its banality. We discuss it not because it is new, but because of what it reflects about ourselves.

A$AP Rocky – 5IVE $TAR$

Someone please tell A$AP Rocky no. After the excellent, world-beating Cozy Tapes: Vol. 1 and the insular, aesthetically refined Cozy Tapes: Vol. 2, we finally get a taste of what A$AP Rocky has in store for his 3rd studio album, Testing. It’s really boring. Rocky takes on a playboicarti affect, with a stuttering flow that does Rocky and producers Southside and Metro Boomin no favors. The beat sounds like someone googled “Lil Pump type beat” on youtube, multiple tiers below the high-production value we’ve grown accustomed to from AWGE releases; even the Twelvvy record knocked harder. Rocky’s guest features in 2017 were standouts in a discography filled with dextrous rhymes, so it’s disheartening to hear something so uninspired given the names involved. Here’s hoping to better bars next time.

KROZER – EP

It’s 2018 so if you’re going to make guitar music, it had better be good. Thankfully, KROZER’s creatively-titled “EP” is just that, full of brash guitar riffs and distorted vocals. The best thing about this EP is how much it jams: the type of music you would actually be willing to mosh to in a musty basement with a bunch of overactive white kids. To be frank, I have no idea what they’re saying half the time on this record, but I kind of love that too.

Opener “STRANGERS” is a headfake, clear, serene strumming giving way to a cacophony of guitars and drums; the brief bass break that opens the second verse highlights the rhythmic bass anchoring the song together. “PINK MATTER” is my personal standout. The opening notes sound like seagulls squawking beachside, before a driving guitar riff takes over, propelling the song forward. The harsh layered strumming over the chorus and ambient screaming noises approximately halfway thru the track emphasize the melody at the core of this EP. And the guitarwork on these songs is just gorgeous.

“BIGSPIN/NO VOX” is the record’s longest track, clocking in at a speedy 3:24 and serving us two songs in that span. “BIGSPIN” boasts the best singing on the record, with a plaintive missive: I could never do the shit you do. By contrast, “NO VOX,” with no vocals, letting the instrumentalists wild out in the best way. There’s a distorted lead guitar low in the mix that I’m going to be thinking about all weekend. Closer “WALK IN COOLER” has the shouted lyrics of pop punk’s heyday married to a grungier aesthetic, ending the record on a high-energy note.

In a streaming era filled with bloated albums designed to maximize revenue and RIAA certifications, it’s refreshing to listen to a record that deals exclusively in brevity; It’ll be interesting to see where KROZER take their sound in the coming year. You can stream the record on bandcamp.

HOMEWRCKR – Pablo.

HOMEWRCKR kicks off 2018 with this glitchy track about getting your heart stolen a la Picasso stealing the Mona Lisa. Listening to this song makes me feel like I ate too much kratom, or maybe like my computer is issuing a final warning before it fully rebels and electrocutes me in my sleep. Check it out.

Ty Dolla $ign – Don’t Judge Me (feat. Future & Swae Lee)

Future and Swae Lee have an ethereal chemistry, from 2014’s “Drinks on Us” to Ty Dolla $ign’s smash single “Blase“. The two reunite with Ty for the Mike WiLL Made It-produced “Don’t Judge Me,” a midtempo jam about seeking solace at the bottom of a cup. Dolla $ign is prepping for the October 27th release of Beach House 3, the follow up to 2016’s Campaign.