Imagine, if you will, you’re inside of a dank basement or an underground warehouse full of sparks and sweat, so humid you can see the moisture and fear in the air. Two men stand toe-to-toe, locked at the eyes, with nothing but fire and tension between them. The moment builds, the crowd of anxious hyenas wait silently, patiently. One man grabs the mic:
He declares proudly as the room explodes with deafening cheers.
The tension hangs so thick in the air, you can taste it on your tongue. It tastes of pride, aggression, and the will to survive. Who wants it more?
Welcome to the World of Battle Rapping, and during the times of Covid and social distancing, they don’t happen in fiery warehouses, there are no musty basements. It’s happening right inside your house.
On Thursday, August 6 at 8 p.m. EST, Rick Ross and 2 Chainz will go head to head in a Verzuz virtual rap battle. Hosted by Ciroc and Apple Music, the two rap giants will compete in the most primal of rap activities, a battle.
Verzuz pairs up rappers for a virtual rap battle, because that is what happens when there are no concerts or music festivals. We need new content, and it has to be virtual.
It’s true, earlier in the day, Kanye West, nearly everyone’s favorite rapper, a man so instrumental in music and culture, proclaimed his love for Trump loud and proud. There are dozens of tweets about it, including, a picture of himself wearing a god damn MAGA hat. And not even Kanye could make that shit look cool.
JPEGMAFIA brings rage and relevance to his music. He busts shots at the alt-right, KellyAnne Conway, and the fucked-up status quo. That’s why he’s the most important rapper working today. He’s a veteran, outspoken, humorous and real, and is making some of the most interesting music out.
His beats skitter and pop, almost abstractly. Sometimes they’re dark and solemn. Sometimes they’re ignorantly violent and allow JPEG to go off on them. Peggy, as he’s affectionately known, opened his set with the Ol’ Dirty Bastard-sampling “Real Nega.” It’s basically ODB shrieking over tribal drums while JPEG spits serious bars all over the place. As soon as the song started, JPEG broke out into the center of the audience and let everybody get in on the moshing. There was not a single still body in the crowd, everyone was either jumping, pushing or both.
JPEG roamed the stage, the ledges, and the audience nonstop, interracting with fans who knew every single word, even the ad-lib sounds from his songs, (“Daaaamn, Peggy”) like a true rockstar. He even played all his own beats from iTunes, no DJ, no hypeman, just pure punk.
Although JPEG could’ve been the main course, in one of the most buzz-worthy shows since Tyler, the Creator/Vince Staples, Injury Reserve brought serious art to the stage next. Complete with LED screen, snow machines, and a hidden room underneath the stage (I wish I could properly describe this, but I’d write 200 words about it alone.)
Injury Reserve came with the tricks, but what struck me, more than the plastic money guns shooting fake Harriet Tubman $20 bills, was the immense talent in this rap group. Stepa J. Groggs, Ritchie With a T, and producer Parker Corey make some of the most lyrically and musically interesting music you haven’t heard yet.
They’ve been working hard since 2014, and have some of the hardest songs like “Oh Shit!!!,” “All This Money,” or sincere tracks like “Tktkv,” and “North Pole.” Ritchie performs with elegance and immense power. When he gets going, it’s like watching Mike Tyson wind up for a haymaker. He can spit with so much aggression while staying genuine and accessible. Stepa is just fresh as a pack of Extra.
Some of the songs these guys play need to be heard by the masses. “See You Sweat” is a bonafide hit and “Bad Boys 3”?? ARE YOU KIDDING ME?? THIS SONG KICKS SO HARD!
Injury Reserve and JPEGMAFIA are on a collision course with success, and they are 100% doing it their way. They are true artists. They’re not rocking Gucci or relying on drug-talk to sell to kids. They are genuinely some of the most talented rappers out today. It was fun moshing with them and 200 fans, but damn if it wouldn’t be unreal to see them play a 2,000 sold-out room. That’s where they’ll be soon. Word is bond.
Five songs into Jeezy’s blistering set in Kansas City last night, he halted the music and proclaimed that the show was postponed.
The hyped-up crowd, who have spent the night rapping, smoking, and turning up was suddenly brought careening back to earth.
But before the air was entirely left from the room, Jeezy stated, “let’s turn this show into a mothafucking Gangsta Party.” As the music blasted back out of speakers, fake snow erupted from cannons at the front of the stage, coating everyone in attendance in powder, courtesy of “The Snowman.”
There are few rappers who have as prolific a footprint as Jeezy. The Atlanta, Georgia icon began his reign in 2005 with the hit album Let’s Get It: Thug Motivation 101. This album was the streets in Atlanta. Out of every Cadillac, rattled speakers blasting “Standing Ovation,” “Trap Star,” “Bottom of the Map,” and pretty much every other song on this album. In fact, Kendrick Lamar even referenced it on his debut album Good Kid m.A.A.d City, when his friends sang in unison “last time I checked, I was the man in these streets.”
That’s what this music does. It emboldens the spirit. It gives life to the dread of the grind that is life. It pulls us up from the dirt and shows us that there can be something more. It’s all about finding the (thug) motivation within ourselves.
So when Jeezy took stage in Kansas City, it was a jubilant moment for the entire community. Everyone in the venue has had something in their lives that stopped them in their tracks, put them down, incarcerated them in doubt. It would make sense that an artist like Jeezy could get them through that.
The man has CHARISMA. He’s a natural performer. He sells these songs like a hungry battle rapper, putting his heart and soul into every syllable. He looks out at the crowd like a sea full of diamonds. He carries himself like the most confident rapper I’ve ever seen. Not even 50 Cent had this kind of swagger when I saw him years back.
Jeezy performed deep tracks from his storied discography, as well as new tracks off his latest album, “Pressure.” All of them, every song, was sung by the entire audience. I haven’t seen so many smiles from a crowd in a very long time.
Jeezy was supported by hard-nosed Detroit rapper Tee Grizzley, who is one of the fastest emerging rappers in the game. I first heard Grizzley’s music from an Instagram live video LeBron James posted of him working out to Grizzley’s song “First Day Out,” just a couple days after losing the NBA Championship. LeBron wasn’t just listening to the song, he was rapping along, pounding his fist to the beat, refusing to let the defeat get to him.
This is the epitome of Grizzley’s music: success in the face of adversity. In fact, “First Day Out” was released immediately after his freedom from a three year prison stint. To see him onstage, covered in diamonds— side note— rappers have started wearing multiple watches, like, I get it, you’re rich- but you really only need one watch. And even with one watch, a phone is the way most of us check the time. But back to Tee— to see him covered in diamonds and flexing a wad of cash, watching a crowd full of people rap along to his songs, is pretty triumphant. And Tee is a pretty awesome.
Rap shows can be a mess, but they can also be glorious. Sometimes rap shows can reduce what we all have to endure everyday, and lift up the joy that we save for life’s most precious moments. Jeezy made a crowd full of people happy and reminded us that it’s never too late to get it.
List season, baby! This is what I’ve all been waiting for all year. I’ve listened to so much music this year, it’s actually kind of fucked up. But I did it all for this. This list. This brief summary of the 50 best songs of 2017. Let’s burn this mother down and start fresh in 2018.
So, 2016 was a burning shit and hair-filled diaper on a runaway trainwreck exploding on an Indian burial ground. So let’s look back at what didn’t suck, the music. Here’s the 50 best albums of the year. Let’s hope 2017 will have way less dead rockstars and Nazis.
That was my introduction paragraph to last year’s list… Well, shit. Maybe we’ll try for better in 2018.
Let’s get to the music.
#25: Father John Misty- True Comedy
This year was, as I’ve stated before, a complete and utter shit show. A Taco Bell induced, diarrhea explosion at the Louvre during a Bill Cosby stand-up comedy set. So to hear everyone’s favorite musical cynic, Father John Misty, describe the dreary world around him in such musical eloquence, it kind of felt like watching your house burn down and throwing your hands in the air as if to say, “fuck it, burn baby burn.”
#24: Thundercat- “Drunk”
How do you describe Thundercat to someone who’s unfamiliar? Well, he plays cosmic rhythm/ funk/ jazz on a six-string bass, and he’s friends with Kendrick Lamar and Flying Lotus, and he’s kind of a stoner hero and oh yeah, he occasionally meows. Like, there’s truly nothing to prepare someone for what to experience with Thundercat. However, the result is always jaw dropping. This is no exception with “Drunk,” which features some of my favorite lyrics of the year.
#23: Jason Isbell & The 400 Unit- The Nashville Sound
Country music hates Jason Isbell, and I’m pretty sure Jason Isbell hates country music. There is no doubt that a guy as cool, laid-back, and musically talented would despise being dubbed a “country artist,” being lumped in with the red, white, and blue toting, dip-spitting, 10-gallon hat wearing, imbeciles the genre usually plays to. But this album is a country album. It’s smart, sophisticated, understated, and cool. It gives the genre a good name, and even country music can’t be mad at that.
#22: Sorority Noise: You’re Not As _____ As You Think
Emo music is notoriously stark. It’s supposed to be bleak and sad, obviously, it’s called emotional music. But this album bites like a deranged T Rex with trust issues. “A Portrait Of” will cut you deep from second 1, and “No Halo” is a ram-shackling good time through the pain. So put on all black, get in the moshpit, push around, find yourself in the sound of someone else’s pain. It just might help you get through your own.
#21: Alvvays- Antisocialites
Alvvays put together a stunning dream pop album during some of the least dreamy circumstances. The music sounds airy, wistful, and like it belongs up in heaven. The lyrics, aren’t as peaches and cream though. Every line is painted with a brush of the anti-social. Those moments, like walking past someone on the street, knowing you’ll dream of them later that night. Like staying awake staring at the phone, hoping for a miracle. Like wishing you could be someone else. All of these emotions are so vivid on this incredibly catchy and beautiful album.
#20: Mac Demarco- This Old Dog
Mac Demarco is my hero. This might seem like an exageration, and even as I’m writing this, I’m thinking, “is he really?” But the more I think about it, there’s truth in the statement. Mac Demarco is a genuinely sweet guy, he’s creative and uninhibited to making one kind of music. He’s got heart, a whole lot of it. He makes great music for those of us who might not know what to do with this weird life of ours. And you know what, I genuinely love the guy. So yeah, he might be my hero, and “This Old Dog” was the soundtrack of my year.
#19: Charly Bliss- Guppy
Sometimes, in a year like this, you have to put down Twitter that’s only reporting bad news, look yourself in the mirror and say: “Let’s have FUN!” That’s when I put on Guppy by Charly Bliss. This album is an absolute thrill ride of fun and pure energy. It’s absolute bliss packed into 30 minutes of music. Lead singer Eva Hendricks is my indie-rock crush of the year, and her voice just makes me happy. This album is definitely going under the radar, which I find rude.
#18: Moses Sumney: Aromanticism
Wow, wow, wow, what a beautiful album. No man should be album to make music this gorgeous, or sing with such grace. Moses Sumney sounds like the first ray of bright sunlight after a torrential downpour. This album listens like a sonnet penned by William Shakespeare after one too many glasses of wine. It’s perfect romantic music, and it’s just exceptionally beautiful. “My wings are made of plastic” is a lyric that has floated around my head all year, like a lost balloon. There’s a mood behind this music, you have to find it, and experience this thing.
#17: Joey Bada$$- All-Amerikkkan Bada$$
This was the album Joey Bada$$ was supposed to make. I remember listening to his first mixtape, 1999, and thinking “this kid is the next coming of New York hip-hop.” He just has everything necessary. The soul, the rhyme-style, the mass appeal. He made the albums needed to get to this point, and now he’s making statements on a larger scale. “Temptation” is perhaps one of the most important songs of the year, and the message he’s sending on this thing can speak to all of us- white, brown, black, yellow, whatever. He’s remarking on the entire country, not just his community in Brooklyn. He’s an important and intelligent artist that we must protect.
#16: (Sandy) Alex G- Rocket
To me, this album is perfect road trip music. It sounds like pushing down the I-70 headed towards a bigger city, surrounded by miles and miles of nothing. There’s a lackadaisical sound in here, a hands-in-pockets modesty to the music. “Proud” moves along so gently it feels effortless. Alex G sings with such an earnest inflection, and the music matches this perfectly. It feels like a stroll downtown in your hometown, kicking stones.
#15: Gang of Youths- Go Further in Lightness
Are you ever so frustrated with life that you just want to run for miles and miles? You desire to feel that fire in your chest? You just want to disappear in a crowd. That’s what Gang Of Youths’ music can do. It’s potent and powerful, like a hit of emotional methamphetamine. The music is high octane lighter fluid, just needing one strike of a match to go up like the Fourth of July. These songs sound like a train heaving down the highway, nearly falling off the tracks, but keeping it together just enough. And there’s tremendous beauty in that. As the lyrics in “Let Me Down Easy” go “You give me a good reason to be heartsick again / To be here, to be strong, to be oddly and boldly estranged / From the loss and bitter years.”
#14: The National- Sleep Well Beast
The National have specialized in a style of sadness unmatched for the entirety of their career. Matt Berninger’s dark and dreary vocals layer so coolly on top of the Desner brother’s fiery guitars. However, they turned this equation on it’s head for this new album. All the components are there, but added are synthesizers, electronic drums, and an extreme sense of paranoia. The songs don’t sound like songs, instead, letters to self, written hurriedly and in what feels like a panic. But everything about it works. It’s truly unbelievable. These guys, The National, are masters of music.
#13: Young Thug- Easy, Breezy, Beautiful Thugger Girls
Young Thug is a national treasure. He needs to be protected. What he is able to do with music parallels what some of the world’s greatest musical anomalies (the Princes, the Bowies, the Thom Yorkes) have done- shatter barriers set for them. On EBBTG, Thugger completely exceeds any expectations placed on him, just as he did with his previous albums Jeffery and Slime Season 3. He can rap hard-as-hell (“Take Care”) and sing ballads with Future (“Relationship”) and croon over a bachata-inspired beat on the impeccably catchy “For Y’all.” I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, Thank God for Young Thug.
#12: Tyler, the Creator- Scum Fuck Flower Boy
He did it! He finally made the album he was destined to make. Since the origin of Tyler the Creator, he has been painted as something he’s not. He’s been called crass, racist, rapist, obnoxious, and everything else unflattering. But then he goes and creates the most flattering album of the year. Tyler’s albums have all been building to this point. The musicality (Tyler produced every track on this thing) the lyrics, stunning and refreshing, the vibe of the album. It’s sunnier than anything he’s done before, and the colors he radiates sounds like a man who is finally in charge of who he really is, which is a super creative, lovely guy, who has been vastly misunderstood.
#11: Sampha- Process
I first heard Sampha on Drake’s “Too Much.” Here was this soulful British voice, weighing nearly 100 tons with emotion. As he sang, I could feel the heartbreak in his voice, and I was hooked. He reminds me of how I felt when I first heard Adelle sing. Now, on his debut album, he makes a statement. He is on of the brightest young faces in music today. His voice is so utterly unique, and the way he is able to craft a song is special. “(No One Knows Me) Like the Piano” is one of the year’s most heartbreaking tracks, and “Blood On Me” might be the most important. Sampha’s debut album is a triumph, and I couldn’t be more excited to see where he goes from here.
#10: Lorde- Melodrama
Lorde is one of those artists that just radiates an energy so pure that it cannot be tainted by pop stardom. After her debut release “Pure Heroine” created a symphony of superstardom for this young New Zealand introvert, I wondered how she could follow this. Surely not with more catchy tunes, more revealing lyrics, and an even better album? But here I am, listening to Melodrama, dancing ferociously to “Green Light,” weeping my eyes out to “Liability,” and stunned by the majesty of this artist’s sophomore effort. Lorde and producer Jack Antonoff have created an album for everyone- the prettiest girl at he party, the loner, the emo kid, and the Prom Queen.
#9: The War on Drugs- A Deeper Understanding
A Deeper Understanding. What does that really mean? A deeper understanding of music? A deeper understanding of society? Or a deeper understanding of self. For Adam Granduciel, I believe this album represents all of these. The Philly dad-rock band, complete with layers of guitars, Bruce Springsteen-esque rhythms, and powerful lyrics, War on Drugs has made their most expressive and finely tuned album of their career. The song “Holdin’ On” is a clear-cut personal favorite, and could easily soundtrack many of life’s most beautiful and epic moments. “Thinking of a Place” borders on tear-jerking with how beautifully the guitars portray the emotion of a song. It’s a near perfect album.
#8: Jay Z- 4:44
Did someone spill the tea? Or should I say, Lemonade. After word got around that music’s most important and iconic couple, Jay Z and Beyonce, were amidst extramarital drama, everyone tuned in like it was the O.J. Simpson trial. Except if TMZ (The Messy Zone) reported every little dirty detail. So Beyonce had her say, and she said it all. With 4:44, Jay gets his chance to tell his side of the story, which ultimately reads, “I did it. I shouldn’t have done it. I’m a product of black culture in America, which is and always has been, fucked up beyond belief.” On this album, Jay sounds grown. He sounds like a man who has had to come to terms with the man he spent his whole life becoming. It’s a gorgeously produced album with Kanye-esque soul samples, slow and meditative lyricism, and Jay Z rapping like a man with something to prove again. This isn’t the gaudy Hov, like that Magna Carta bullshit he used to sell Samsung phones. This is a man, coming to terms with himself, his environment, his fidelity, and his society.
#7: LCD Soundsystem- American Dream
When LCD Soundsystem broke up in 2011, I was so sad. Here was this band that I had grown to love so dearly. I’d loved everything about them, their uncoolness, their style and sound, their unbelievably catchy songs. And now they were breaking up, at the height of their careers?! Thankfully that didn’t last long. 5 years later, we get the return of New York’s most cynical band, and with them, a new album, just as drenched in cynicism. Only this time, there’s a sense of responsibility where there used to not be one. James Murphy used to be utterly scathing with his pen, now he shows more restraint, like an older gentleman would. He pens his songs now skillfully, like a crossword puzzle. However, there is nothing changed when it comes to the dirty synths, the building crescendos of songs, and the sense of weirdness in this bizarre American world. If this is the American dream, it’s going to take a lot more LCD albums to get us through.
#6: Migos- C U L T U R E
In 2017, Migos invented the culture. There’s just no other way around it. I guess you could say Atlanta created the culture. The culmination of years and years of work, Southern strip-club bangers, Gucci Mane’s rise-and-fall and rise again, and the ascension of Three Brothers- the Migos- to rap’s highest peaks. Migos cut their teeth in the scene long before making it this big. They put out hit after hit, and fueled countless parties with their bangers. Then, finally, with a little help from Metro Boomin, the biggest producer in the country, they unleashed “Bad and Boujee,” and they were there. Between the meme-ification of the music, the adlibs, the unfamiliarity of 95% of the phrases, Migos caught everyone’s attention. There are just too many hits on this album to be excused. “T-Shirt,” “Slippery,” “What the Price,” “Kelly Price,” “All Ass,” I could list the entire track list. THEY’RE ALL BANGERS. No other rapper did that this year. All killer, no filler.
#5: Spoon- Hot Thoughts
As I’ve written before Spoon is the most consist band in rock and roll. Their sound is consistently changing, yet remaining in its wheelhouse. They’re never rewriting the textbook, but adding chapters that make you keep reading and flipping pages with intrigue. Britt Daniel is the fearless band leader and the glue of the band. His soulful croon, soaring and raspy at the same time guides the bands’ tight sound through song after song with ease. “Hot Thoughts” is a definitive statement, that the band is still able to churn out fun, adventurous, and complex songs at this point in their 9 album deep career. “WhisperI’llListentohearit” begins one way, and takes an insanely catchy turn halfway through. “I Ain’t the One” is the most cinematic song of the year. If I ever write a movie featuring a cool, building, eerie walk-up from a hero with a troubled past, this is the song I’ll use for it. This album is further proof, if you needed any, that Spoon is a masterclass in amazing American rock music.
#4: Vince Staples- Big Fish Theory
Vince Staples is one of the rare talents of our generation. Sophisticated and brilliant, yet hard-as-hell gang-affiliated Crip. Big Fish Theory is his departure from the traditional way of telling his story. As he did with breakout album Summertime ’06, he still raps with the aggression of a pit bull on bath salts with daddy problems. However, this album focuses intriguingly on the beats Vince has collected. Avant-dance producers SOPHIE and ARCA play a tremendous role in this album sounding the way it does. Skittering and jolting, clicking and clanking unpredictably while Vince lays down the coolest, slickest bars of his career. “Yeah Right” is a song that doesn’t sound like anything else produced this year, and features a ludicrously unhinged Kendrick Lamar verse. “Big Fish” is a classic Vince song that has a ridiculously catchy verse that will stick in your head. And “Rain Come Down” is one of the most ominous album closers of the year. Vince is just playing on a different level than everyone.
#3: BROCKHAMPTON- Saturation II
I could write a 20,000 word essay on the prolific boy band, BROCKHAMPTON. Lead by the esoteric and highly intelligent, openly gay Kevin Abstract, the group already has their own sound and marketing angle. Add on top of that 7 or 8 other rappers that have their own unique styles, including the stunning Ameer Vann, who raps with the aggression of DMX with the laid back coolness of Vince Staples. Saturation II is the second installment in a year-long ambush of ridiculously great music. Before the year is over, there will be a third. This staggering pace of the quantity music doesn’t take away from any of the quality. The album begins with “GUMMY” which might be the hardest hitting song I’ve ever heard. This song makes me want to flip a cop car. The album refuses to relent even an inch, getting more and more catchy with each song. “QUEER,” “JELLO,” “SWAMP,” and “SWEET” are all iconic BROCKHAMPTON songs. And there’s 12 more where they came from. So, needless to say, BROCKHAMPTON is my rookie-of-the-year winner. They’re also my most fascinating band story of the year. If you want to be on the right side of history, get on board with this new boy band that will take over the world like One Direction.
#2: SZA- CTRL
A year ago, nobody was giving SZA the respect she deserved. Whether they were ignoring her or just not paying attention, seemingly everyone glossed over this unmistakably unique songstress with some of the most fire lyrics in R&B. I guarantee you, nobody’s glossing her over now. SZA released her long-awaited debut, CTRL, to critical acclaim, from critics, sure, but mainly from fans. The reception for this album was nothing short of glorious. Fans were singing every lyric of the album like it was gospel, and truthfully, it almost is. SZA bares every bit of herself on this album, her insecurities, her fears, her lust, and her strength. She said before the album was released she wrote that she self-conscious of the album and didn’t think it would go over well. Judging by the multiple Grammy nominations, it went over better than she ever could’ve imagined. “The Weekend” is an anthem for side-chicks everywhere. “Love Galore” is a definitive classic, and “Garden (Say it Like Dat)” is one of the best songs of the year by miles and miles. SZA is a force to be reckoned with. Just like everything on TDE, this is a world-conquering album. I cannot wait to see where SZA goes from here, because it will surely be incredible.
#1: Kendrick Lamar- DAMN.
Kendrick Lamar is the greatest rapper alive. There is simply no other way to put it. There is competition, then there is murdering your competition, which is exactly what Kendrick did with DAMN. Now, it’s not like this is anything new. Kendrick has been rapping circles around the game since Good Kid, m.A.A.d City, but he’s taken a rare approach. He’s written a film, essentially, then he wrote a theological critique of society and the black man’s place in it (institutionalism, survival’s guilt, etc.) and now he’s on his fuck-the-world, I’m the best in the game, flow. Kendrick goes harder on this album than he ever has before. “DNA” is a banger unlike anything he’s ever done before. “HUMBLE” created one of the most identifiable hooks in music. “ELEMENT” is Kendrick at his very finest. Even the title, “DAMN” is the only way to look at this piece of work. Like, DAMN. He really is this good. Nobody can compete. Then there’s the idea that the album is supposed to be listened back-to-front, and not front-to-back. I’ve tried both, and I can tell you this much, the journey is different, but the destination is the same- Kendrick is untouchable by any other rapper in the game. In fact, one of the only features on this album is U2. Fucking Bono BARELY made it on this album. This might not even be Kendrick’s best album, but it is definitely the best of this year.
Remember 2009? Damn, what a good year! “I Gotta Feeling” was on the radio, Silly Bandz were stacked on our wrists, and this was the Internet craze your family sent you over and over
Those were simpler times, and the brighter days of ’09 feel so far away. But sometimes, a band, a song, an album is so powerful, it pulls you back to that year, and that feeling. That feeling only comes around rarely. That feeling happens during “Listzomania” and “1901” by the formidable French indie-rock troupe Phoenix.
During an incredible opening night of 96.5 FM’s “The Nights Buzz Stole Christmas” concert series, Phoenix brought their decadent lights, silky smooth music, and over-the-top cool persona to the Midland Theatre in Kansas City.
The band wasted no time kicking off the show. They opened with their latest hit, “J Boy” from new album Ti Amo, and then instantly gave the fans what they wanted to hear. They tore into a raucous rendition of “Lasso,” from 2009’s breakout album, Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix. It won over the hearts of the large crowd within seconds of the song starting.
Over the course of the night, they continued to play gem after gem, hit after hit, until the dancefloor was theirs. “Rome,” “Girlfriend,” “Entertainment,” “Trying to be Cool,” and more. Relentless they were with the amount of hits they played. The band sounded insanely tight knit, and every guitar stroke or drum beat was impeccably perfected.
They closed with the stellar track “1901,” but that didn’t mean the show was over. Not by a long shot. Lead singer Thomas Mars strolled out into the crowd casually, carrying a microphone with a extended, light up red chord. He strutted through the entire crowd, before finally standing up above the fans. With balloons bouncing around him, he chugged a fan’s drink given to him, and surveyed the audience. He led the crowd in singing the final notes of “1901” and wished everyone goodnight. It was an extraordinary end to an extraordinary show.
Phoenix were supported by Hembree, a local Kansas City indie-rock band with a sound that is supremely ready for the biggest of stages. They truly have everything necessary for a successful band that will go the distance: incredibly catchy guitar riffs, pounding drum rhythms, fantastic lyrics, likable band members, and a readiness to have a fun time on stage that is infectious for the crowd, (i.e. their tremendously fun cover of the Gorillaz’ “DARE, that got the party going.)
While watching them onstage, I couldn’t help but imagine them on the festival circuit- starting low in the bill, playing the 3pm time slot, building an audience in the sunny afternoons. However, their audiences continue to build until they find themselves playing to the sunset, and maybe, just maybe, closing out the day. This may be idealistic, but I absolutely think that this is a capable goal for Hembree. Their love for music is palpable, and that kind of appreciation for the music, and the enjoyment of playing it for people, will get you far in this business.
The first opener of the evening was another local outfit, Y God Y. Led by Garrett Marsh, their sound is unique and inviting. Driven by warm synths, and spacey drum beats, Marsh’s voice carries the sound into another dimension. Their style is equally indie-rock and electronic-synth pop. The combination of styles works well for them, and they created a big hit with fans. With their Afentra-approved cosign, I can see this band growing into a prominent touring band, taking their weird and fantastic sounds on the road to audiences all over the world.
When was the last time a concert blew your mind? Did you lose track of time while your jaw dropped to your feet? This kind of response is rare, and it takes a special show to cause this.
Flying Lotus took over the Midland Theatre on 11/16 with his incredible 3D show. In the space of the venue, he ascended to supersonic levels.
A Flying Lotus show is something to marvel at. There are few artists who create sounds so complex and challenging as FlyLo. His beats, which can span from hip-hop to freeform jazz to G-funk, incorporate some of the most eclectic sounds imaginable. They take so many turns, they could be mistaken for a race down the Autobahn.
FlyLo opened with some of his more ethereal, jazz-based jams, “Getting There” and “Computer Face/ Pure Being.” These songs were a good introduction to the weirdness that was going to become the night. Behind a large, asteroid-looking DJ table, a wildly braid-haired Steven Ellison, aka Flying Lotus, fiddled with controls and laid down the intense tracks. Behind him, a screen projected one of the wildest light shows I’ve ever seen.
The entire show was in 3D. What does that mean, exactly? After all, everything in life is 3D.
Well, every attendee at the show was given 3D glasses to effectively perceive the vision FlyLo was trying to portray. On the screen, colors and shapes flashed vividly, puzzles and landscapes became marbled and warped as they cascaded into each other. All of these visions erupted out of the screen and crawled toward the audience.
As the show progressed, FlyLo was handed a red solo cup, and the show took another, darker turn. It was time for Flying Lotus’ alter-ego, Captain Murphy, to arise. As the beat for “The Killing Joke” eerily crept in, like a demented lullaby, FlyLo grabbed the microphone and rapped every bar of the menacing verse.
The moment of the night occurred when Flying Lotus played his dark, spacious Earl Sweatshirt featuring “Between Friends” from the Adult Swim singles series. The beat is deadly and the crowd vibes to it in a major way. As FlyLo played Kendrick Lamar “Wesley’s Theory” followed by fellow BrainFeeder label artist, Thundercat’s “Friend Zone,” the show reached it’s climax.
Finally, FlyLo unleashed his ace in the hole, “Never Catch Me” featuring an unstoppable Kendrick verse and a blitzing bass solo.
During the show, cosmic beats collided with bombastic weirdness in a perfect space. The 3D imagery was perfectly conceptualized and completed. The beats thrown down were filthy and unexpected. The show was magnificent and bizarre.
There is no other way to watch a Flying Lotus show than with your mouth slack jawed and your mind blown.
Tyler The Creator performed in front of a sold-out audience at the Truman in Kansas City last night as a part of his Flower Boy tour. He played a majority of new songs, with some old gems thrown in the mix, and the fervent crowd loved every minute of it.
The charismatic rapper swooned to his die-hard fans with opener “Where This Flower Blooms” and the screaming audience made the first lines of the song inaudible. Tyler performed on an elevated platform on the stage where he danced like Kanye West, grooving wildly to the music.
Tyler then kicked the show into second gear with the blistering and guitar-heavy track “DEATHCAMP.” While Tyler shows his emphatic and loving side on Flower Boy, the Cherry Bomb opener is filled to the brim with crushing aggression. The barricade, separating the audience from the stage, rattled and shook like a thunderous earthquake was hitting the venue.
Tyler played around with these two vibes perfectly throughout the show, embarking on a sweet ballads like “Foreward,” or throwing down bombardments of sound like “IFHY.” On songs like “Tamale” the crowd jumped emphatically in the air and shook the ground.
The clear-cut sing-a-long favorite was Goblin standout “She” which the crowd recited perfectly and sung beautifully along to the Frank Ocean crooned chorus.
During the intro of “Who Dat Boy” Tyler asked every member of the audience “put your phones away. I want you to remember this.” The crowd did just that, and came the closest all night to bringing down the venue with their incredible energy.
It wasn’t all turning up though. Tyler lead the crowd in a beautiful recital of “November” leading into “Glitter.” These songs clearly resonated with the audience. When the show concluded with “See You Again,” fans hugged and smiled with warmness, because they had just seen their favorite artist live. It’s moments like that, proving that concerts are clearly more than just the music.
Tyler the Creator has seen a huge evolution in his career, and on “Flower Boy,” he is at his most musically focused and lyrically gifted. His honesty has never been so relatable and with the rate that he is elevating as a musician, the sky is absolutely the limit for the Odd Future commander-in-chief.
21 Savage, Offset, Metro Boomin- Without Warning Whenever two of the most popping artists join up for a project, it’s bound to attract an unbelievable amount of attention. For example: Kanye and Jay Z, Young Thug and Future, Lil Wayne and T-Pain. In this vein, artists will consistently continue to push the envelope of the album release by dropping these massive projects.
This week’s hottest album is a collaboration of 21 Savage and Offset (1/3 of the Migos.) It’s called Without Warning. This alone could be a project worth listening to. Two of the hottest rappers in the game trading bars. However, the album gets taken up a notch severely by the inclusion of powerhouse producer Metro Boomin, who crafted all of the beats on this thing.
This album was dropped on Halloween, as a surprise release. It couldn’t have been planned any better because these songs are scary. Scary good, scary aggressive, scary focused.
“Ghostface Killers” starts off the album with an icy and eerie beat. It sounds like church bells of a deserted town that was just ransacked by two gun-slinging outlaws. The chorus is impeccably catchy and is filled with Migos-famous adlibs. It’s a total boomer. 21 shows up sounding as calculating as a serial killer. Travis Scott also spontaneously shows up to take this thing over to edge.
“Nightmare” has an equally terrifying beat, sounding straight out of a horror movie. Makes sense that the chorus goes “Freddie Kruger, give ’em a nightmare / Soon as you close your eyes, nigga we right there.” Can you imagine a scarier scenario? You’re happily sleeping and then when you wake up, Offset and 21 Savage are in your room, undoubtedly holding heavy artillery.
The team of almost-certified-killers sounds most treacherous on “My Choppa Hates Niggas” which has an ominous flute on the beat and a little girl’s laughter randomly appearing. If there is anything scarier than a little girl laughing during a horror movie, than I don’t know what it is. I mean, those two little girls from The Shining still terrify me to this day.
As we’ve seen before, this formula works. Surprise release an album, have two or three enormous stars, and watch the internet implode. This will almost definitely continue happening, and I’m perfectly okay with that. These super albums are just part of the culture now.
Single of the Week
N.E.R.D. & Rihanna- “Lemon”
I’ve been waiting for new N.E.R.D. music for over three years now. The unstoppable production duo of Pharrell and Chad Hugo make the most accessible yet off-the-wall music of our generation. They also compile some of the biggest artists in the game to put on features, in unique ways. For their return single, “Lemon,” they come back in a major way.
On “Lemon” Pharrell bodies the first half of the track, which bounces around and bumps with unbelievable booming bass. Then, without any warning, RIHANNA COMES THROUGH SPITTING BARS! Rihanna raps better than 95% of the rappers doing it today, and she sounds so fucking cool. “It’s Rihanna nigga, my constellation is Space” she says, and honestly, she’s completely telling the truth. It’s Queen RiRi’s world, and we don’t deserve to occupy space, but I’m so glad we do.
Music Videos of the Week
Rich Tha Kid & Kendrick Lamar – “New Freezer”
This song is a feel good banger. This is just a really fun time to watch. The beat is a boomer with some insane bass line ripping through this thing. It clicks and clanks around while Rich Tha Kid flexes throughout the his verse. The reason this is a music video of the week is because we get to see Kendrick Lamar rap his verse, looking unbelievably cool in a Lakers sweatsuit, eating Chinese take-out. If that’s not the best thing you’ve seen all week, you must be having a pretty good week.
The War on Drugs – “Nothing to Find”
So this music video is incredible, and it’s incredibly simple. A young girl is on the road with a plant man. He’s a man made out of plants. They dance, the shoplift, they are best friends. Until life, as it tends to do, gets the best of us. The emotional ending of this thing is a lot to handle. You don’t think it’ll hit you as hard as it does, but next thing you know, you’re at a Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf spilling tears into your Green tea and the saltiness is kind of nice, but you wish it wasn’t there.
Goldlink touched down at The Granada Theatre last night to perform an electrifying show, sponsored by KJHK 90.7 and SUA.
Goldlink is almost too talented. Almost to the point of being unfair to everyone else. Not only can he rap faster than 98% of the rappers in the game, he can sing and perform like a true pro. His style and his vibe elevate him from the rest of the genre. All of these components came together during his extraordinary live show.
Something that Goldlink is especially special at is his rapping ability. His toned down, mellow voice allows for his cadence to ride the beat so effortlessly. It’s like he’s running down directions of how to catch the E-Train so fast that you know you’ll get lost as soon as he finishes his sentence. His words form these parables and loops that are so infectious to listen to.
On songs like “Herside Story” he is able to dance over the melodic track and find flows I never imagined possible. He tells stories that are so relatable and his words are believable. On tracks like “Kokomoe Freestyle” he unleashes some of the fieriest bars on top of an absolute bruiser of a beat. This song is absolutely unreal, and could be any artist’s best song by a couple miles. When performing this song live, the crowd became unruly in the best possible way. Hands were flying in the air as every eye stayed on Goldlink, who delivered every word perfectly. The beat knocked hard like the next door neighbors when you play this song too loud.
It’s a testiment to how good Goldlink is that “Kokomoe Freestyle” is not his best song. That came at the end of his set. For his final song, Goldlink performed his biggest hit to date, “Crew,” a possible song-of-the-year choice. The melody on this song, the movie-esque sound, the chorus, which is catchy as hell, and Goldlink’s crushing verse played out on stage like an anthem. The crowd went absolutely ape for this song, rapping along to every word, singing the chorus like it’s a Weeknd song. They even knew every word of Shy Glizzy’s verse. Goldlink was so impressed that he performed the song twice in a row.
During his performance in Lawrence, Goldlink played through most of his new album, At What Cost, as well as some older gems. It was a vibrant and electric show that ended far too soon. He could have performed for another hour and the crowd would have eaten every song up like a snack.
Goldlink is a rare talent, one that will be revealed in time. He’s already gained recognition for “Crew,” but his star path is on a major ascension. This guy is talented enough to be the next big thing, so don’t wait. See him when he comes to your town.