Opinion: The State of Modern Hip-Hop

Everyone has different opinions on hip-hop. This is mine. The music industry is constantly changing and moving forward, and there are people who have trouble accepting these changes, taking it out on younger generations. This is specifically apparent in Hip Hop, where older rappers and people who grew up around 90s hip hop will constantly criticize the new generation of rappers. I get it. To some, it’s pretty frustrating that less lyrical and musically talented artists are making waves, but you should still respect their work ethic and the fact that they’re charting. Tastes change, and so do the sounds that gain traction. However, there are a few popular rappers who don’t respect those that paved the way for their success. Lil Yachty is a prime example.Yachty said in August of this year that he “honestly couldn’t name five songs from tupac or biggie.” A bit disrespectful, but he clarified that he just wants to make music with a positive message and thinks older rap artists lyrics are too dark and depressing. Not necessarily the case, but I guess it makes sense. Respect, though, should always be given to those who came before you. Not just in music, but in life. Some people are too self absorbed  to understand that, though. To truly appreciate what you’ve achieved, you have to look at the past and realize that you couldn’t have done this on your own. Your friends, family, and those who came before you helped you get here, and you should appreciate that.

Music Review: Beck – Colors

im reviewing the album so it's fair use.

i’m reviewing the album so it’s fair use.

It’s safe to say that singer-songwriter Beck is quite the experienced artist. He has a few hits under his belt, such as 1994’s Loser and 2005’s E-Pro. He even managed to win album of the year a few years ago at the 2015 Grammys for his album Morning Phase, so it’s clear his career has been quite fruitful, to say the least. One of the most interesting things about Beck is that he changes his style pretty frequently from album to album. His 2005 effort Guero combined elements of indie rock and folk, while 1999’s Midnite Vultures almost falls into the funk category. His new album Colors is a vibrant, jaunty pop record with a lot to offer. It floats the line of indie rock and pure pop with songs like Dear Life, and even ventures into pop-punk territory on I’m So Free. The only issue I have with this album is that it sort of lacks meaning, but upon reading some recent interviews, I learned that Beck talks about how modern pop music doesn’t have lyrics that contain important messages, so the message he was trying to convey works pretty well. The album also includes a 2016 single titled Wow, which stands out because it doesn’t sound much like any other song on the record. It’s more of a rap song, but it’s still very enjoyable, even if it’s a little off putting at first. The best track, in my opinion, is the ethereal Dreams, which dances along the lines of psychedelic pop while still sticking to the tune of the album. Punchy drums and an incredible transition make for this to be one of the best songs I’ve heard this year. Overall, Beck’s Colors is a fantastic departure from what we’re used to hearing from Beck. I would rate it a strong 9/10, for being one of the rare albums that I replay over and over again.

Welcome to my Music blog!

Hello, and welcome to my blog! here I will be discussing various aspects of music, including reviews, new artist spotlights, and more. Hopefully the content will be interesting enough to gain some traction before the end of the school year, and readers will enjoy the content available here. Music is one of the most important things in my life, and my hope is that I can make that known to any potential readers. My music taste is somewhat eclectic, ranging from modern hip hop, indie rock, and oldies. I’m looking forward to writing about my favorite artists, albums, and my opinions on new music. To start, I’ll be reviewing grammy winner Beck’s new album, Colors. Watch for that next week, on November 10th. The most interesting thing to me is how different people consume and process music. To some, it’s just background noise in their daily lives, like a song on the radio. To me and many others, it’s so much more. I actively seek out new music to listen to and have been consistently building a playlist of different music for the last 2 years. It’s around 750 songs as of today, and hopefully it’ll just get bigger as my horizons broaden and I acquire new tastes and discover new artists. There is a plethora of talent in the world. Not just musical, but in general. While I’ll be focusing on music, there will always be crossover into different mediums, such as film, marketing, and other such industries. I hope you’ll join me!

Fashion in the Music Industry

Fashion might not be the first thing that comes to mind when one thinks of the music industry, but it’s definitely up on the list and has an incredibly close relationship with the musicians and their art.

Personally, music is my passion–but being a fan of music that doesn’t also have an intensely creative visual to it is just boring. Music, while an aural art, is also inherently visual–and what visual an artist decides to accompany their art with has a massive effect on the impression their music leaves on the listener. For example, only last week, I made a post regarding Taylor Swift’s remarkable evolution from sweet country girl to a sweaty, leather-loving post-alt chick–but her transformation was almost entirely visual. Yes, her musical style changed, but honestly “Bad Blood” wouldn’t have been too out of place in one of her earlier albums. No, what really made that single stand out was its music video–and relatedly, Taylor’s new fashion.

Many musicians are almost as famous (or infamous) for their fashion as they are for their music. David Bowie’s freaky take on glam rock became an iconic part of the seventies and eighties, while Lady Gaga’s abstract and strange runway items became part of her identity. Towering platform high heels became associated with her–and consequently, her music. Rapper Kanye West even has his own fashion line, and with that in mind, it’s hard to listen to his music without the minimalist aesthetic of his designs influencing how I view it.

The point of this post? Music is as visual as it is aural. And what better way to demonstrate the visual creative process of your music than to wear it on yourself?

Music News: Taylor Swift Releases “Bad Blood” Music Video

Playing nothing but acoustic pop-country tunes about pining over a crush or losing a boyfriend for five plus years, all while wearing the floral-dress-plus-cowgirl-boots getup and not much else, certainly has its consequences on any up-and-coming artist, but for none was it more devastating than Taylor Swift.

For when our young Taylor Swift started to shift genres, styles, and fashion, people still struggled to see her as anything other than the sweet country girl they were used to seeing. She changed her haircut, her instrumentation, her performance style, and the length of her shorts, but to no avail… but that is a struggle that the public will have no longer, thanks to Swift’s new music video.

It’s near impossible to envision that sweet country girl in the setting of her new video–full of leather, studs, and weapons of mass destruction. Not to mention it’s also full of a kick-butt all-female cast, including Zendaya (dubbed “Cutthroat” in this video) and Paramore-singer Hayley Williams (who was appropriately nicknamed “The Crimson Curse”).

As if this cover wasn’t terrifying enough, she also wields giant knives in the video! Watch out!

The video was half short-film, half action-movie-intro-screens, and half music video, but amazingly, they made it work. It was fun, cohesive, and a bit terrifying, in the best meaning of the word. If I ever wanted to be drop-kicked into oblivion by anyone, it would be by one of these women (basically: Taylor Swift, please drop kick me).

Some might think that Taylor is trying too hard to “prove herself” in the light of growing older, but honestly her music and aesthetic has been headed in this direction for a long time. It’s simply the natural progression of things, and it’s a progression I aggressively approve of.

Playlist: Just Hang In There

So AP Exams are finally over, but there’s at least a month of school to go–dragging your feet through your classes and putting in just enough effort to maintain the A you’ve worked so hard for all year. Now that the stress has died down, you’re simply exhausted, and although you’d never let yourself do it all you want to do is skip class and sleep until noon.

While there’s really no solution for the exhaustion (five hours of homework plus a track meet? Yeah right you’re going to bed on time) there is a solution for your drab attitude–and what better to solve a salty mood than with some music?

So grab your headphones, take a night off from the studying, relax in bed–tonight’s your night. A playlist about recovery and just hanging in there until the end.

1. Everything Will Be Alright – The Killers
2. Recovery – Frank Turner
3. I Wanna Get Better – Bleachers
4. We Could Be Friends  – Freelance Whales
5. No That Bad – Matt & Kim
6. It’s Nice To Be Alive – Ball Park Musici
Riptide – Vance Joy
8.Recover – Chvrches
9. Sanctuary – Utada Hikaru
10. Be Okay – Ingrid Michaelson
11. It’s Not My Fault I’m Happy – Passion Pit
12. Today Will Be Better I Swear – Stars
13. On Our Way – The Royal Concept
14. Be Okay – Bo En
15. Something Good Can Work – Two Door Cinema Club
16. Brighter Than Sunshine – Aqualung
17. Everything’s Okay – Lenka
18. White Winter Hymal – Fleet Foxes

Artist of the Day: Gym Class Heroes

As one of the biggest rap rock groups in the industry, and featuring one of modern music’s most well-known rappers (multi-platinum-selling rapper Travie McCoy), it’s no surprise that Gym Class Heroes would make it as my artist of the week eventually.

True to their name, Gym Class Heroes found their beginning in none other than lead singer/rapper Travie McCoy’s and drummer Matt McGinley’s high school gym class, where the two formed a close friendship and later hooked up with bassist Ryan Geise to form their first lineup, which was then fully completed in 2003 when guitarist Disashi Lumumba-Kasongo was added to the group. The band had small beginnings, playing tiny events like college parties and BBQs, birthday parties, clubs, and festivals, but their patience and hard work paid off as they gradually worked up to larger venues and festivals, and even scored a place on Warped Tour’s lineup for four years straight.

Gym Class Heroes performing at the University of Tennessee in 2009

However, I’m not here to talk about their success story–I’m here to talk about their music, because lyricist Travie McCoy is nothing if not a poet. Often addressing heavy subjects like racism, depression, homophobia, alcoholism, and heartbreak, always with truthful, hard-hitting lyrics, McCoy seriously delivers like no other. Their songs will make you think hard, and wake up and see the realities of the real world.

That being said, it’s not like the band doesn’t have their fun–they have a good handful of fun, casual party songs backed with chill, reggae beats, and often a mixup of genre and instrumentation, delving into pop and rock quite frequently and not being afraid to explore their realm of freedom they’ve been given. Not only are they versatile, but they’re good at it, too.

No matter what scene of music you come from, these guys have undeniable talent and should definitely be checked out. You can find more of their material on their website here, and Travie McCoy’s solo work here.


The Evolution of Music

Out of all the incredible things that music has to offer, one of the most mind-blowing things about modern music is simply how diverse it is–you hardly even need to travel across the street to find a different music scene than the one you’re on, so when you compare the diversity that music has to offer across cities, states, and countries, it’s hard to even comprehend. So where did it all begin? How did all these separate cultures on completely separate continents develop their music and the merge them so beautifully into the international music scene we have today?

While there’s no real place to begin–attempting to accurately trace back all music to each of their individual roots would be near impossible, but when concerning the music scenes of modern America, the best place to start would likely be New Orleans.

African-Americans dance to banjo and percussion in the late 18th-century painting The Old Plantation (source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jazz)

Many of America’s signature musical styles–country, folk, blues, jazz, whatever you want to name–took root in the South, and there’s no cultural center in the South quite like New Orleans. Home to lively blues and jazz scenes as well as spirited county, it was the birthplace of much of America’s music.

However, another major turning point in music’s evolution happened in the fifties and sixties, with the birth of rock ‘n’roll, the British invasion, and the subsequent beginnings of the eradication of racial barriers between music. Musical pioneers like Elvis, while essentially not that musically original since he had only been playing the same music that black musicians had been making for years, still broke racial boundaries by bringing both audiences to his shows.

Numerous other musical revolutions have happened since the fifties, many of them tied in with other social uprisings (hip-hop and racial rights, grunge and LGBTQ rights, female-led pop and feminism, etc.) but what’s truly amazing about them is the fact that this all only happened in the last one hundred years–a mere sliver of our cultural history, but probably where about 70% of music’s total evolution has happened. And it’s changing at an increasingly rapid pace–popular sounds and genres that used to last for a decade or more are now seemingly barely lasting a year. New computer-generated sound and instruments and genre fusion are being created left and right, to the point where it’s almost impossible to keep track of. What does this mean for the music of the future? While the musical evolution of the past hundred years’ has been beyond remarkable and often responsible for other social movements, the future is the evolution that many are still wondering about.

Playlist: Study Time

So AP Exams are coming up fast, and even if you’re not an Advanced Placement student, or even a student at all, there are definitely times when you need to sit down, shut up, and get working. Unfortunately, it can be hard to get your mind to focus, especially if you’re already exhausted and welcome to any sort of distraction at all–but that’s where this playlist comes in. Motivational, focus-enhancing and zen-like jams to get your mind out of the rut and into the zone for that AP Calculus exam that you just can’t fail, this mix should get you studying in no time.

Comprised of video game scores, classical music, coffee shop songs, and movie soundtracks, just turn on this mix anytime you need to get your head in the game.

1. Saria’s Song [Music Box Remix] – The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of TIme
2. Chocolate [Acoustic] – The 1975
3. 11PM – Animal Crossing
4. Lullaby – Brendon Urie, Spencer Smith & Pete Wentz
5. Goner – Twenty One Pilots
6. Waltz No. 2 – Dmitri Shostakovich
7. The Imitation Game – Alexandre Desplat
8. London Calling – Michael Giacchino
9. Dance of the Knights – Prokofiev
10. Minuet of Forest [Music Box Remix] – The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time
11. Trepack from Nutcracker, Op. 71 – Albert Lizzio
12. Two – Twenty One Pilots
13. Pompeii [Acoustic] – Bastille
14. Life On Mars [Acoustic David Bowie Cover] – Patrick Stump

Artist of the Day: MisterWives

Now, I’m going to be honest, here–I don’t usually pay openers of the concerts I attend much mind, and to be honest, by the next week they’ve likely already left my mind completely. However, such is not the case with unbelievably endearing, and talented, indie-pop group.

I first caught wind of them last October when I went to go see the indie-pop duo Twenty One Pilots live, and they were one of two openers. The first openers that had come out for the show were a fresh-faced baby band called Vinyl Theatre, and while fun and not untalented, they lacked the unique spark the usually piques my interest in an artist. MisterWives quickly made up for them.

Despite the largely unattractive name, I was immediately charmed by them–it didn’t hurt that I’m also somewhat of a sucker for female-fronted groups in a predominately male-led industry. Lead singer Mandy Lee Duffy will absolutely charm your socks off, and even if you aren’t a huge fan of their genre of music you will likely be enchanted by her fun and mildly flirty performance alone.

MisterWives performing at The Great Escape music festival in 2014 (source)

The music itself isn’t anything particularly deep, lyrically–never shallow, just not quite reaching the same level as some of the other artists in their genre. However, it’s clear their music isn’t meant to be a downer–they’re fun, catchy hits with playful instrumentation (saxophones and trumpets abound, oh my) and an optomistic feel. However, they’re still not boring–their songwriting and instrumentation is largely unique and you won’t find another group that sounds exactly like them, or has the same charming dynamic.

If you’re into anything light-hearted and quirky, I highyl recommend checking them out. You can check out their music and tour dates at their website here.

What Makes A Good Live Show?

From sold-out arenas, pyrotechnics and elaborate costumes, to tiny cramped venues, broken amps and a lack of security–what can be defined as a “concert” is a pretty broad range. Some are massive productions that require hundreds of staff and are host to thousands of audience members, and are praised for the advance choreography and glittering costumes while being broadcast to the entire world on TV. Others are tiny, personal shows in cramped and sweaty venues, and what they might lack glamour and stage presence they make up for with immensely more personal touch. So which show is “better”?

There’s no doubt that bigger productions definitely have more finesse to them–they’re definitely more of a show, and more aesthetically pleasing to the eye. Who doesn’t think of expensive pyrotechnics and thousands of screaming fans when they think of musical “success”? These concerts are designed to be an audio-visual experience–there’s a tremendous amount of effort that goes into arranging choreography and stage props and costume changes. And there’s definitely a reward–these end up being beautiful works of art and can be some of the most entertaining things to put on your TV screen.

Mindblowingly large arena shows like U2’s 360 Tour pictured about often have amazing visuals, but lack personal connection (source)

But what about personal connection? It can be a bit hard to feel impassioned about an artist when you’re sitting hundreds of feet away in an arena seat next to someone you don’t know, where the performing artist is a mere dot in your line of vision, as pretty as the light show behind them might be. There’s absolutely no connection at all–you might as well be watching it from home and get a better view and less damaging volume.

But such is the magic of small shows–the personal connection is almost difficult to avoid. First of all, while being pressed up against numerous other gross sweaty people is definitely a trial and not for everyone, it does force you to interact a bit with the other concert-goers and perhaps make a friend–there’s hardly been a concert I’ve personally gone to where I haven’t.

[insert image here: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/d/d6/U-Men_at_the_Bat_Cave_Seattle.jpg]
Small shows like the one pictured above of The U-Men performing at the Bat Cave in Seattle provide a much more personal experience. (source)

Additionally, shows of a hundred people or less, while often less organized and hosting much cheaper sound equipment that is much more damaging to our ears, also force the artist to interact with their audience, instead of just screaming a meaningless “how are we doing tonight?” at a crowd of thousands. Artists at small shows are forced to talk with their fans or else they’ll lose their engagement. And with the talking comes a connection that pays into a much better experience than sitting in that lawn seat three-hundred feet from Beyonce next to a stranger you don’t want to talk to.

So which is better? When it comes down to it, it really depends on what you’re looking for–a show, or an experience.

Composer of the Week: Alexandre Desplat

While I haven’t addressed composers in the music industry since last November, with the Academy Awards bringing to light another handful of talented composers this last month,  original soundtracks have once again come to attention and definitely need to be re-addressed.

While this year’s award is surprisingly Alexanre Desplat’s first Academy Award for his scores, he is no stranger to composing for films–in fact, he’s been writing and composing soundtracks for well over two decades, and has scored over one hundred films in his time. While many of these films are part of French cinema as Desplat is French himself, he has had a big hand in mainstream Hollywood as well,  scoring Hollywood hits such as The Golden Compass, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows, The Imitation Game, and The Grand Budapest Hotel.

While Hans Zimmer is recognized for his heavy, intense orchestral soundtracks, usually accompanying high-action battle scenes and dramatic climatic plot-twists, Desplat has a softer composing style–always done with a flourish, his scores often end up being more thoughtful and pretty than loud and intense. He makes use of somewhat left-field instruments such as bells and horns instead of sticking only with a traditional orchestra, and it certainly has an affect on his sound. There’s a reason why most of his movies turn out to have romantic, fairytale-esque vibes.

While highly talented and well-sought after inside the film industry, Desplat is not well-recognized in mainstream Hollywood biz, and is sadly under-appreciated for all his talents. I highly recommend you go just out his work here, and support him on his website here.

Playlist: Set Fire To All Your Problems

It’s now approaching that point of the year where some individuals (well, at least, myself) are beginning to go a little crazy. March is a busy time; with spring fast approaching, families are suddenly rushing to finish up plans for spring break vacations and arrange family reunions, while high school seniors hear back from the last of their colleges and begin planning for their future. In school, teachers are rushing to squeeze in the last several units of the curriculum and students are quickly reaching that point where even the idea of BS-ing their homework becomes too much. Emotions are high-strung, and stress is abundant–sometimes you find that calm reassurances, soothing meditation music and “it’ll be okay!”s can only do so much for you.

And that is where this playlist comes into play–because sometimes the best way to relax and de-stress yourself in preparation for the impending spring break is to stop trying to calm yourself in the first place, and just let it all out.

Starting hard, fast and loud with discordant punk anthems and eventually mellowing out to somber piano melodies, this is definitely the playlist for anyone who might have their mind in a bit of a rut.

1. Smoke Rings – frnkiero andthe cellabration
2. Snitches and Talkers Get Stitches and Walkers – Fall Out Boy
3. Hang ‘Em High – My Chemical Romance
4. Your Friends Are Full of… – LEATHERMOUTH
5. Juarez – Gerard Way
6. Uma Thurman – Fall Out Boy
7. Just Like Me – New Politics
8. Novocaine – Fall Out Boy
9. Harlem – New Politics
10. She’s The Prettiest Girl In The Room, and She Can Prove It With A Solid Right Hook – frnkiero andthe cellabration
11. Last Hope – Paramore
12. Oh, Ms. Believer – Twenty One Pilots
13. Life on Mars (Acoustic) [David Bowie Cover] – Patrick Stump
14. Northern Downpour – Panic! At The Disco
15. Truce – Twenty One Pilots

Artist of the Day: Childish Gambino

While well known as an actor for his roles in the TV show 30 Rock and other late night comedy, Donald Glover is more than just your average comedian–he is also a poet and well-practiced musician, who is more commonly known by his stage name Childish Gambino.

Glover has been making music under the stage name of Childish Gambino a name that he stole, interestingly enough, from a Wu-Tang Clan name generator) since 2008, when he released his first independent album Sick Boi, and quickly followed it up with his next three albums Poindexter, I’m Just A Rapper, and I’m Just A Rapper 2 within the next two years. The latter two records were rather inventive mixtapes–taking indie-pop and rock hits and rapping over them to give familiar songs a whole new meaning.

Childish Gambino]
Donald Glover performing as Childish Gambino in April 2012 (source)

Gambino’s lyrical work is nothing to sneeze at–it’s not the dull and boring ramblings of an artsy indie rock snob, disguising themselves as a weak excuse for rap. Rather, they’re deep and introspective observations of how the world works, addressing public and personal issues such as family, schoolyard bullying, troubled romantic relationships, suicide and alcoholism.

Gambino was also recently nominated for two Grammy awards in the 2015 Grammys, Best Rap Album for his 2012 release Because The Internet and Best Rap Performance for his performance of his single “3005”. While winning neither, the nominations still helped bring his music into the spotlight (as opposed to his acting and comedy, for which he is more renowned).

If you’re in the mood to think, Gambino is certainly the right artist for you. You can find him on his official website here.