My Musical Journey

As I’ve said before, I think music is a wonderful thing that influences us and helps make us who we are. My musical journey started when I was young, and hopefully won’t stop until I’m dead.

The first memory I have is listening to “Born to Run” on one of the first trips up to Maine, and to this day I still love it. I’ve always had a soft spot for classic rock, it’s what my parents played in the house, it’s the first genre I delved into when I started to get interested in music, and some of it’s still in my rotation today, but I like to ease off for a while and get that nostalgic feeling that comes with it. I was that weird kid in middle school who thought that today’s music sucked, and that 60’s and 70’s music was the best there was. I was kind of a pretentious little shit back then.

Toward the end of middle school up into high school, I started listening to some more contemporary music, things like Metallica, Disturbed, Avenged Sevenfold, and Linkin Park. These artists spoke to me more than the artists my parents listened to, and I felt like they understood what it was like to be an sad, angry suburban kid in the 21st century. I don’t really listen to most of the albums I was obsessed with back then, I revisted them recently, and a vast majority of them suck, but they still meant the world to me, and those feelings I had when I was 13 make up for it.

Toward the end of my sophomore year of high school, I was looking on YouTube for something new, and I stumbled on an Eminem video. This was my introduction to rap. I was blown away by The Eminem Show and the Slim Shady LP, but my parents hated it, which made me like them even more. As I listened to more and more Eminem, my YouTube suggestions lead me to discover artists like Ice Cube and Cypress Hill. I didn’t even smoke weed yet, but I still loved Cypress Hill. I remember seeing tickets go up for a Cypress Hill show nearby, but when I thought about how my parents would react when they heard their music, I reconsidered going, which was probably for the best, since I don’t think a nerdy 14-year old white kid from a small farm town would fit in with the weed-smoking 90’s rap fan.

I really don’t want to admit this, but when I first started smoking weed, I was obsessed with the Kottonmouth Kings. I was 16, and convinced that they were better than Eminem and Dr.Dre. I’d play Long Live the Kings and Rollin’ Stoned for my friends, but they were still into hardcore and metal, so while it wasn’t really their thing, I have to give them immense credit for putting up with it and soldiering through.

My music tastes started to really evolve when my friends and I started partying. Nobody wants to here “A Little Piece of Heaven” at a party, it scares the girls away. As we met more people, we listened to their music too. One of the first people to expand my rap knowledge was our friend/friendly neighborhood weed guy Tom, who introduced me to some of the most important artists in my life, people like Mac Miller, Logic, J.Cole, and Kendrick Lamar. He also introduced me to a lot of garbage that I can’t stand to this day. I related to these people, mostly Mac and Logic, because at the time I was partying a lot, looking forward to college, to getting out of my town and making something of myself, and I looked up to these people a few years older than me doing exactly that.

As I began college, I was still listening to all of the music I’d always listened to, but as I went to frat parties and hung out with douchebags, I started getting into people like Jay-Z and Kanye West. I was blown away by the production, I still am. As college proved to be a really tough environment, I started using music to cope with the fact that sometimes I couldn’t get out of bed or do anything else. Specifically, Watching Movies With the Sound Off was my soundtrack, and it’s still one of my favorite albums, but hearing certain songs like “I’m Not Real” and “The Star Room” brings back memories of smoking joints by myself at 2am, thinking about how bad my life was getting.

I was stuck in a funk for a long time, leaving college because I was failing classes because I was either too depressed to get out of bed to go to class, or because I was too hungover to do my homework because booze temporarily made me feel like a person. This lead to me coming back to that sleepy farm town I’d worked so hard to get away from. I started working at Dunks, and with that, started having time to kill, so I filled it by listening to albums. Now, at this time I was working 10 hour days 6 days a week, so I had a lot of time to listen to new music. This period of time is when I discovered a wealth of new music that I adore to this day.

The first album I heard was Kanye West’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, and it blew me away. I’d listened to Kanye in college, but it was usually just the older album and the hits, so when I heard “Runaway” for the first time, I was blown away. I’d never heard so many good songs on one album before, back to back to back, and I finally understood why people put up with Kanye’s shit.

During the Dunks Period, I started to branch out my tastes, which lead me to discover Anderson. Paak. I was blown away, it was like the music I used to listen to as a kid got a makeover, and became fresh and relevant. Malibu was my entrance to soul music, albeit in a modern sense. As I dove into soul music, I started listening to jazz and big band music, and started to value live instrumentation in all forms of music, especially rap. I discovered Avantdale Bowling Club, a project by New Zealand rapper Tom Scott, and I was blown away. It was everything I’d been looking for in an album: it had great rapping, it had live instrumentation, it had a message about coming home and growing up that spoke to me on a material level, and it was a cohesive piece of art. Hell, I’m probably going to go play that record right now, it’s one of my favorite in my collection.

As time went on, I started to get bored with listening to the same ol’ music all the time, so I looked for something new to scratch that itch. I found myself listening to a lot of indie music, Speedy Ortiz, Portugal the Man, Bright Eyes, Beach House, Gorillaz, The Internet, Tame Impala,and many more. This new influx of sounds and ideas really hooked me, and I still love all of the music I discovered back then, and I’m super looking forward to hearing the new Bright Eyes album.

Recently, I’ve gotten more into jazz, specifically modal jazz, from people like Miles Davis, John Coltrane, and Duke Ellington. I like the creativity and musicality involved, no structure, no limits, just artistic expression. It does make me feel hella old and lame when I put on Frank Sinatra songs in the car with my friends, but fuck them, they can walk if it bothers them that much.

I like to think that the music I’ve listened to shaped me in a way, made me a better, more rounded person. I’m still immensely curious, I’ll listen to just about anything, except for EDM, because I’m not a 20-year old frat kid on Molly, but anything else, I’ll probably give it a listen. I’ve been collecting records, not only because they definitely sound better, but they also serve as a sort of time capsule for me so when I get older I can look back at these records and remember what it was like to discover them, and how different life was back then.

The 10 Greatest Rap Flexes Of The 2010’s

This post has been sitting in my drafts for way too long, so I figured it’s about time I finish it. Every time I hear a ridiculous rap flex, I write it down, because I’m weird like that. Here are my favorites, over-analyzed for your enjoyment.

10) I’m a lord motherfucker, better greet him if you see him- A$AP Rocky

Rocky has never been modest or humble, but let’s face it, he can get away with it. He’s consistently changed his sound, which is something I always love to see, while not compromising his artistic integrity and the attitude that made him successful. I’m actually playing this record as I’m writing this, because I think At.Long.Last.A$AP is his best work, and the song this line is from, LPFJ2, is one of the most confident songs I’ve ever heard. From the booming bass to the sirens, this song is meant to get your attention, and lets the listener know that Rocky isn’t just that weird dude from Harlem who loves UGK.

9) I guess the neighbors think I’m sellin’ dope. Motherfucker I am.- J. Cole

This whole song is a flex, but when I heard the story behind it, and saw the security camera footage, it took on a whole new meaning for me. When J.Cole was making this album, he was staying in a wealthy community not used to rappers, so when Cole and his collaborators came by in fancy cars, smoking weed and making noise in the late hours of the night, his neighbors assumed the worst and called the cops. After watching a SWAT team kick-door J.Cole’s house, I felt a little angry at these racist honkies who couldn’t be bothered to Google their neighbor before assuming he sold drugs. I love that J.Cole used this moment as a teaching experience, and as a sign of his success, rather than an excuse to hate white people. He’s not selling dope, he’s making dope music. There’s no need to worry, unless you’re afraid of great music, in which case you should turn on that Rebecca Black album and shut the fuck up.

8) The only rapper who sold more dope than me is Eazy E- Pusha T

Now, I’m not in the DEA, so I have no way to know if this claim is true, but the way Pusha T delivers this line, you really have no choice but to believe him. Pusha T’s entire discography is basically him bragging about his flourishing cocaine business, so I’d like to believe he knows a thing or two about it. I’m not super into the whole NWA catalog, but I’ve heard enough to know that Eazy E was a cold motherfucker who sold some dope. I’d have to see the total weight breakdown to know for sure, but I think that the top 3 cocaine concierges would have to be Pusha T, Eazy E, and Jay-Z. It’s funny how they all have a single letter at the end of their name, but that’s besides the point.

7) I just updated my old deal, I told Def Jam no less than 20 mil, and they cut that shit- Logic

How the fuck did Def Jam look at Logic’s last 2 albums and be like “Yup, this is something I’d pay 20 million dollars for.” I used to be a fan, and he still gets me excited sometimes, but Logic needs to slow down for awhile. This line was hard as fuck, and as a fan, I like seeing Logic succeed, but if he’s going to use the money Def Jam gave him to make more albums that sound like first drafts, I’m going to have to sit back and wait for something more polished to come from Logic.

6) All I wanted was 100 million and a bad bitch, now I want 200 and Minaj in my palace- Rick Ross

Have you seen Rick Ross’s house? It’s like something out of Scarface, which is probably why he bought it. It’s the largest single-family house in Georgia, and the biggest house I’ve ever seen on Google Earth. I don’t doubt that Rick Ross has a hundred million dollars; he owns a fast-food restaurant, a record label, a champagne brand, and probably a few other businesses, but I’m not sure how he’s gonna get Nicki Minaj in his palace. Maybe in 5 years when her career bottoms out. Rick Ross is the king of saying stupid shit that somehow sounds badass. Maybe it’s his voice, maybe it’s that rapper charisma, maybe he’s actually a badass. The world may never know.

5) I AM a God, so hurry up with my damn massage- Kanye West

What can I say about Kanye West that he hasn’t said himself? This man really listed God as a feature on his song “I am a God” If there really is a God, it’s not Kanye West, but the sheer audacity that he has is commendable.  Even better, he called the album this is on “Yeezus” That’s just the cherry on top of the batshit crazy saga that we call Kanye’s career.  The fact that people still put up with his shit is a testament to how amazing this man’s music used to be. I just hope that “Born Again Christian” Kanye looks back at this time of his life and realizes how crazy it was.

4) I believe there’s a God above me, I’m just the God of everything else- Pusha T

This is Pusha’s second appearance on this list, because it’s such a great line. The fact that Push can back up his claims with bars solidifies this claim for me, don’t forget: this is the guy who broke Drake’s confidence with the best diss song I’ve heard in years. The delivery of this line also makes this a killer, Push is almost sneering at us mere mortals as he looks down on his rap kingdom. Think about the level of confidence it takes to declare yourself a God, while acknowledging there’s still a higher power above you, shit’s incredible.

3) I did it all without a Jay feature- Mac Miller

From a 1.0 Pitchfork score to a Grammy-nominated jack-of-all-trades, Mac Miller deserves the top-3 spot. Not only did he have the first #1 independent album of the last 30 years, not only did he play piano, bass, drums, guitar, sing, rap, and produce, Mac Miller inspired many legendary artists to hone their craft. Usually a humble, quiet person, Here We Go (the song this line comes from) is a triumphant, braggadocios anthem celebrating his success during a dark time in his life. He did all of this by himself, without using more mainstream artists to gain popularity.  The fact that Jay makes an appearance in this list makes this line even better; he doesn’t even need his cosign to be great.

2) Obama say whattado- Kendrick Lamar

Kendrick Lamar is such an important part of rap. He’s the first Pulitzer Prize winner who raps, he’s the first rapper to show up on the Presidential Playlist, and he’s definitely the first rapper with an album cover taken at the White House.  He’s this generation’s Tupac, hopefully without the violent end. To Pimp a Butterfly is such an important album, so Kendrick shouting out the first black president in a song about black empowerment is perfect. I can totally see Kendrick and Barack hanging out in some luxurious event with a bunch of Rhodes Scholars, talking about philosophy and politics, and celebrating all their medals and awards together.

1) No such thing as an ugly billionare, I’m cute- Jay-Z

This is the best one. The rap flex 30 years in the making. Jay-Z is rap’s first billionaire, and as the most confident person ever, Jay deserves the top spot. Now, no disrespect to Jay, but he looks like Mr. Potatohead came to life and started selling crack. Nas had some less-than-nice things to say about his appearance, but Jay’s also married to Beyonce, and Nas is still paying child support to the “Milkshake” lady, so who really has the last laugh?  Jay has enough money and success to be able to spout ridiculous shit and get away with it, so the fact that he still comes with amazing lines like this makes me happy.

 

 

 

The Amazing Power of Music

I read an article recently about the psychological effects of music, and how it affects your mood, and it occured to me how important music really is.

I listen to a lot of really, really depressing music, and I think that it’s starting to affect how I think. Part of me, deep down, loves it. I love sitting in my room listening to “u” and drinking whiskey in the dark. Now, seeing that written down, it seems kind of fucked up.

Maybe if I listen to “Happy” a million times a day, or start my mornings with “The Dreamer”, eventually I won’t be so angry at the world. I’m going to try that; only listening to upbeat, positive music for a month or two, and see if it does anything for me.

I don’t know why sad people love sad music so much. On paper, it doesn’t sound like it should help, but it does. I’m sure there’s some music psychologist who can show me case studies and peer-reviewed papers, but I’m not a scientist, I don’t know if I’d understand all that technical jargon and obscure psychology terms.

“Music is the new religion.” I read that in a Pitchfork interview, and it makes me think. I’ve definitely learned more about being a decent, well-rounded person from music than I have from church. Jay-Z taught me that financial freedom is our only hope, and that a loss ain’t a loss, it’s a lesson. Kendrick Lamar taught me that it’s okay to be afraid, it’s okay to think you don’t deserve what you’ve been given. Mac Miller taught me that it’s okay to feel things, and it’s okay to need help. What’s Jesus taught me?

The Circles EP: 3 Stages of a Bender

I’ve written before about how much I love Mac Miller, but I don’t see enough love for the 3-song EP he released right before “Swimming” came out, and that’s a damn shame. DJBooth has an incredible article about it, but I’d like to share my own thoughts on the individual songs. I’ve had my issues with drinking and the like, and one night, after a couple of glasses of Irish whiskey, I came to the conclusion that this EP feels like a bender: one of those nights where you say “fuck it” and get lost in the sauce, and  additionally, dealing with the consequences of overindulging.

Programs

 

Off to see the wizard, lead the picture
Me and liquor, evil mixture, demons clitter
Clean the whiskers, seeking Mr. Fisherman
Back on my shit again, doin’ my own dance

This is the point in the night where you say to people “I’m fine, go away, let me have fun, I’m feeling myself.” Right before you throw up on yourself. This is the part of the night where you know you’ve gone too far, where your vision is blurry, your thoughts are scattered, you’re not thinking clearly, but you still think you’re on top of the world. This is the point where you know you’ve had enough, but that little voice in your head says “You’re fine, let’s see how far we can go.” I’ve been there too many times, and it’s never a good thing, but in that brief moment of time before you pass out, you feel happy, and that’s scary. ‘Programs” is also the only song on the EP that I could see being played at a party, it’s a trap-flavored banger that goes super hard, if you’re too fucked up to listen to the lyrics.

Buttons

 

There’s a world going crazy outside
But let’s pretend that it’s alright
We keep pretending that it’s alright

“I’m hungover and tired and I regret everything, so I’m going to ignore everyone and recover.” This is when reality comes knocking. You wake up in pain, both physically and mentally. You think about all the stupid shit you did last night, and you get worried, thinking to yourself “What the fuck did I do last night? How did I get home? Why is there a full Domino’s pizza and a stuffed tiger in my bed?” Whenever I overindulge, I just want to disappear and ignore everyone, because I’m embarrassed that I let things get out of hand. This is the kind of soft, gentle piano music that I usually put on when I’m hungover, it’s quiet, it’s peaceful, it won’t cause my head to explode in agony, and that’s just what the doctor ordered after a night of poisoning my liver.

Small Worlds

Yeah, nine times out of ten I get it wrong
That’s why I wrote this song, told myself to hold on
I can feel my fingers slippin’, in a motherfuckin’ instant I’ll be gone
Do you want it all if it’s all mediocre?

I’m glad that this is the song that made the album, it’s about the moment when you stop hating yourself and get back to business, which is an essential theme in “Swimming” There was a time in my life when I routinely drank myself stupid, like “Snooki from The Jersey Shore” stupid, and I always hated myself after, but as I’ve grown up, I’ve cut back a bit, but there are still times where I overdo it, but now I think to myself “I’ve got to pull myself together and get back to work. I’ve done some stupid shit, but I’ll learn from it and grow.” As my body recuperates, I start to look for more upbeat, cheerful music to inspire me to actually be productive, and those John Mayer guitar licks are exactly what I need to go from “slacker on the couch” to “productive member of society”

Top 10 Albums of the 2010’s

Everywhere I go, I see lists of the Top Ten Albums of the Decade, and it got me thinking about how musically great this decade was. Since I’m not a trained musician, and I don’t have any musical education besides one class in college on “The Art of Listening to Music” all of these are based off personal preference.

 

10. 2014 Forest Hills Drive- J.Cole (2014)

In the #10 spot, J.Cole. 2014 Forest Hills Drive is the album that cemented J.Cole as a top-tier rapper worthy of Jay-Z’s cosign. J.Cole went platinum with no features on this album, a huge deal at the time. Some of my favorite J.Cole songs are on Forest Hills Drive, so I might be biased towards it.

J.Cole is incredibly good at telling stories, on “Wet Dreamz” he talks about how nervous he was losing his virginity, a heartfelt and vulnerable experience for anyone to share, let alone a rapper. That’s the thing about him, he is very good at being relatable, you probably felt the same way he did going to that girl’s house after school, you probably felt you could’ve helped your parents more, you’ve probably felt hopeless at some point and didn’t think it would end.

Not only does Forest Hills Drive have great lyrical content, the beats J.Cole picked are incredible too, especially on “Fire Squad”, “No Role Models”, and “Love Yours”. My favorite moment on the album comes on “No Role Models” in a sample of lovable doofus George W Bush butchering a common saying.

Songs to Check Out: Fire Squad, Love Yours, Apparently, No Role Models, Tale of 2 Citiez

9. I don’t like shit, I don’t go outside-Earl Sweatshirt (2015)

Earl Sweatshirt is a master of bite-sized content that makes you feel full, and i dont like shit, i dont go outside is definitely bite-sized, but feels like a 3-course meal. I dont like shit is perfect for those cold winter days where you wake up hungover and realize you have to go outside and shovel snow. It’s both lyrically dense, and sonically pleasing, which is a nice surprise for an album that’s less than half an hour long.

Earl has grown up quite a bit since the days of Doris, jacking off to Asher Roth eating apple sauce, and his lyrical content has grown with him, this album is filled with one-liners that take a second to comprehend, you can tell that Earl has studied at the MF DOOM School of Internal Rhyme. This isn’t an album for everyone, there’s a lot of depressing shit here, Earl seems to be baring his soul on songs like Faucet and Grief, but he does it in such a way that makes you nod your head along with him. Earl ends the album off on a high-note with “Wool” a middle-finger to everyone who doesn’t like him, with Vince Staples shooting off aggressive gun lines and Remona Park shoutouts.

I listen to this on my way to work every once in a while, its short runtime makes it perfect for the commute, and by the time I get there, I’m fired up by the “Fuck you” confidence of Vince and Earl.

Songs to Check Out: Grief, Grown-Ups, Faucet, D.N.A, Wool

4:44- Jay-Z (2017)

Jay-Z is the best rapper alive. Full stop. That being said, he only put out one album worth talking about this decade, and I think it’s one of his best. If it wasn’t a Tidal Exclusive, more kids born before Reasonable Doubt came out would recognize that Jay is the GOAT. 4:44 is produced front-to-back by legendary producer No I.D, and switches Jay’s usually bombastic style to something more low-key and personal. This is a rare look into Jay’s life at the time, he was just called out by his wife in an incredibly public way, and feels the need to apologize to her. The title track 4:44 is one of those songs that I feel uncomfortable listening to, it feels too personal and intimate for me to be listening to while I vacuum my house in a bathrobe.

Jay-Z is the richest man in rap, and he uses the knowledge he’s gained over his career to try and educate the next generation on The Story of OJ, Legacy, and Moonlight. The Story of OJ might be my favorite Jay-Z song ever, it’s got an immaculate instrumental, it’s got Jay going full dad-rap, and it’s got the best line on the album: ” OJ like ‘I’m not black, I’m OJ’……Oookay.” You can practically hear the eye roll there, and it’s a great insight into the theme of the song. There are so many high-points in this album, it’s hard to just pick a few to write about. “Marcy Me” has Jay reminiscent of the Marcy Projects where he grew up, “Moonlight” is basically Old Man Jay shaking his head at the new generation of rappers, “Smile” features his mother, who comes out as a lesbian, “Bam” is a brass-heavy banger with Damian Marley, “Family Feud” is the family reunion of Jay and Bey, every song on 4:44 is an event, and by the end, I was shocked by how great it was.

There aren’t many ways to hear 4:44, unless you have Apple Music or Tidal, or have the patience to sit through 6 minute intros before getting to the song on YouTube. This caused me to actually purchase a physical copy, which you should definitely do if you’re Jay-Z fan.

Songs to Check Out: The Story of OJ, Bam, Moonlight, Marcy Me

7. Avantdale Bowling Club- Avantdale Bowling Club (2018)

This might sound weird, but ABC is a jazz rap album from New Zealand. It’s worth a listen. This isn’t just a rap album, it’s free jazz with rap verses. The live band makes this album sound more rich, and is what initially caught my ear. You could listen to the instrumental version of ABC and still enjoy it, I keep it on in the background while I work, the jazzy trumpets and cymbals make my work day a little more tolerable.

There is a lot to unpack here, you might need to pull up the lyrics to fully understand the songs, but it’s worth it, front-man Tom Scott pours his heart out all over this album, and with the incredible trumpets and saxophones and drums in the background, you can hear the pain in his voice. Songs like Old Dogs, and F(r)iends use the brass section to give the song an extra punch that they wouldn’t feel the same without.

I’ve done a lot of thinking about ABC, and I’m torn between thinking whether it’s an autobiography, or a collection of short stories with the same characters. One the one hand: all of the songs flow together so well, and the subject matter is highly personal, but it also tells multiple stories and life lessons learned over a lifetime. On the other hand though, it’s warning from Tom not to live like him: consumed by creating perfection, and empty when you can’t find that spark. Tom also tell stories of his friends who’ve progressed from weed to meth, and some of them die from it. This is what F(r)iends is about, the title applies the people in the song, both friends and fiends. I’ve dealt with this before on a smaller scale, the people you hung out with in high school maintain the same bad habits that made them “cool” in the first place, never growing up, and switching to harder drugs until they’re a shell of their former selves.  Water Medley is an ode to water, the cure to hangovers, the cure to creative blocks, the key to life. 

This album’s about an hour long, but only 8 songs, which is nice because you have time to properly enjoy the music without having to be intently focused on understanding the lyrics. It’s a perfect Fall album, and makes driving at night feel like you’re in an old detective movie.

Songs to Check Out: Old Dogs, Pocket Lint, F(r)iends, Water Medley

6. To Pimp a Butterfly-Kendrick Lamar (2015)

Yea, I said it, Kendrick Lamar isn’t #1. This might seem like a hot take for those of you who idolize Kendrick, and while I love this album and what he was trying to do with it, there are albums I like more. Now that that’s out of the way, To Pimp a Butterfly is incredible, from the ridiculous flex on the cover, to the ensemble of musicians assembled, to the lyrical content. This is an album about black excellence, and how music has been influenced by it.

At first, I wasn’t into the jazzy instrumentals, but as my tastes develop, I appreciate them more and more. There are few “bangers” on here, but there are songs that make you think, and I think we need that type of music even more. There is a lot of anger in this album, anger at at society, anger at the community, and anger for Kendrick himself. The Blacker the Berry is an example of anger at society and community, with Kendrick declaring that he is the biggest hypocrite of 2015,while describing the ways that black people are mistreated in America, but ending the song by pointing out the hypocrisy of black-on-black crime.

This album is deep, and you might not catch onto everything the first time around. I certainly didn’t. Songs like “How Much a Dolla Cost” had an instrumental that I couldn’t appreciate, so I didn’t give it a proper listen until long after the album came out, which is a shame because not only was it one of Obama’s favorite songs, it has one of the most shocking moments on an already-eventful album: the revelation that the homeless man asking Kendrick for a dollar was God. I had to run it back a few times to properly appreciate the story Kendrick was telling, and I’m glad I did.

Songs to Check Out: Alright, The Blacker the Berry, U, i, How Much a Dolla Cost, Hood Politics

5. At.Long.Last.A$AP- A$AP Rocky (2015)

A$AP Rocky surprised the hell out of me with this one. I’m a fan of the his New York twist on Houston Screw music, so that’s what I went into At.Long.Last.A$AP looking for. Boy, was I in for a treat. The opening rant from a pastor evolved into a slowed down soul sample on Holy Ghost, I was shocked, it sounded like something Jimi Hendrix would do if he was alive today, I couldn’t believe this came from the guy who liked to fuck because he had a fuckin’ problem.

The psychedelic vibe continues with L$D, where Rocky switches things up and sings, something I didn’t know he had in him, with a trippy music video that looks like Rocky dropped a tab or two before thinking of it. I like that Rocky is switching up his style a bit here, it’s refreshing to see him sound good on beats that he’d probably never touch in 2011.  Kanye West makes an appearance on “Jukebox Joints” and while his verse isn’t the best, I like the production he put on it, he definitely knows how to flip a sample and make something gold with it.  There is a lot of genre-bending on this album, but my overall favorite song is Everyday with Rod Stewart. This was my first introduction to Rod Stewart, and I loved how the old style and the new styles meshed together, with a heavenly Miguel outro to tie it all together. On M’s Lil Wayne comes out of nowhere to absolutely annihilate his verse, much to my surprise, and gave me a new respect for Wayne I hadn’t had before, so if you’re not a big Wayne guy, check that one out, you’ll be surprised.

A.L.L.A is filled with diverse sounds, and is worth a listen regardless if you like Rocky or not, I’m sure you’ll find a sound you like. If you like confident bangers, you’ll like LPFJ2, Electric Body, and Excuse Me, if you like socially-conscious boom-bap, you’ll like Max B, Wavybone and Canal St., and if you like experimental stuff, you’ll like L$D,  Dreams, Everyday, and Pharsyde.

Songs to Check Out: M’s, Everyday, Max B, LPFJ2, L$D, Jukebox Joints, Holy Ghost

4. My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy-Kanye West (2010)

I, like most people, think Kanye West is an asshole. That being said, Dark Twisted Fantasy is one of my favorite rap albums ever, and if it weren’t for the last 3 songs, Dark Twisted Fantasy would be #1. Dark Twisted Fantasy starts out with a barely-recognizable Nicki Minaj with what barely passes as a British accent ordering you to zip it and listen to Kanye’s magnum opus. Whatever your feelings toward Kanye, he was extremely gifted at putting songs together, and he demonstrates his gift here. All of the songs on this album are immaculate, maximalist anthems that will exist long after Kanye has his eventual mental breakdown. This album was supposed to be his masterpiece, his legacy, and while he accomplished that on this album, his legacy will always be tarnished because of his antics.

Musically, this is Kanye West at his best. Tracks like Runaway, Devil in a New Dress, All of the Lights, and Gorgeous are among the best and most recognizable of his career, and the rest of the album isn’t far behind. Runaway was actually the song that got me into Kanye, I’d heard of him before as the guy who made beats for Jay-Z, but I’d never given his solo work a chance. Those 4 opening piano notes drew me in, and as soon as the drums came in, I was hooked. Immediately after finishing this 9-minute long toast to assholes, douchebags, and scumbags, I took a minute to reflect on what I’d just heard. After composing myself a little, and getting over the fact that I’d liked a Kanye song, I went and listened to the whole album.

Every single artist on Dark Twisted Fantasy brings their A-Game, with career-defining verses from Nicki Minaj and Cyhi the Prynce. The posse cut “So Appalled” is the best posse cut I’ve ever heard, with Jay-Z, Pusha-T, Cyhi, and Raekwon all competing for the best verse on the album. (Jay-Z won, hands down.) This feels like an album for the ages, all of these songs, with an exception of the last 3, are classics, no matter your feelings toward Kanye.

Songs to Check Out: Dark Fantasy, Runaway, So Appalled, Gorgeous, Devil in a New Dress, Monster

3. Swimming-Mac Miller (2018)

Swimming means a lot to me, and although it came out barely a year ago, I can’t say I’ve gotten bored with it, and I play it almost every day at work. It’s the last album Mac put out, and it’s bittersweet to listen to because he was such a gifted musician, and he had come so far from the frat-rap days of Donald Trump, that I will always be curious where he would take his sound next.

Swimming is light, airy, and subtle. Most of the instrumentals aren’t bass forward, there aren’t any obvious bangers, with the J.Cole-produced Hurt Feelings coming the closest, but it is a heartfelt album full of Mac’s most hopeful and personal songs. Mac does a lot of singing on this album, which is a bit of a change from his last few projects, and what he lacks in technical ability, he makes up with raw emotion and effort, with a touch of auto-tune at times. His rapping abilities, however, are better than they’ve ever been, almost lazily floating over the understated chimes of Conversation Pt.1 and the clean Steve Lacy chords on Jet Fuel. Mac clears up any questions about his relationship with popstar Ariana Grande on a few songs, namely Dunno and Perfecto, where he addresses that she helped put him back together when he was broken and down, and that he has no harsh feelings toward her, and wishes her the best. This shows a maturity in Mac that is yet another sign of his growth and recovery. 2009 is my favorite song on Swimming, it’s Mac’s look back at the things he’s done and the life he’s lead, and while he sounds like he regrets some of the things he’s done, he understands that he can only learn from his mistakes. The strings in the intro remind me of a Disney movie for some reason, and the  quiet piano notes make this already intimate song feel even more so.

Everyone has a different interpretation of this album, but I think that this album is when Mac realized he can fight off depression and drug abuse and be sober and happy. He’s been fighting for so long that when he finally gets an upper hand, he relishes it and keeps going. During his heavy drug period, Mac was drowning in sorrow and fear and all sorts of negativity, and didn’t think he could fight it off, but now he’s grown up enough and been through enough that he has confidence in his ability to be fine without the safety net of being high all the time. It’s sad that he died shortly after this came out, but like the inevitable ending of everything, so it goes.

Songs to Check Out: 2009, Hurt Feelings, Dunno, Self-Care, Small Worlds, Conversation Pt.1  

2. Malibu-Anderson .Paak (2016)

Malibu had the #1 spot for a very long time, only recently beaten, but it’s still one of my favorite albums of all time, and deserves to be heard by everyone who even remotely likes R&B. Anderson .Paak is a musical Swiss Army knife: he sings, he raps, he plays the drums, he produces, he dances, the amount of talent that resides in one person is astounding. I first discovered Anderson .Paak on Dr. Dre’s Compton, where he stole the show on Animals and Deep Water. When I first listened to Malibu, I couldn’t help but smile, the summery feeling of this album is undeniable, and it has this funky soul to it that just boosts your mood, and that’s awesome.

My favorite songs on Malibu change regularly, but as of now, The Waters, Celebrate, and The Dreamer are my go-to songs. The Waters is a Madlib-produced soul banger where Anderson displays his rap skills and declares himself “the First Church of Boom Baptists” with an incredible soul sample as a hook. Celebrate is a funky groove with an incredible bassline that you’ll feel yourself subconsciously jamming along to while you drive down the road with the windows down. Celebrate has simple, but important, message: life might suck, but you’ve got to celebrate the good parts while you still can. Celebrate leads perfectly into The Dreamer, which I absolutely love. It starts off where Celebrate ends: with a clip of an old surfer talking about enjoying the old styles, as well as the new, fitting Anderson’s style perfectly. The addition of Talib Kweli and optimistic children’s choir makes this song an inspirational anthem for anyone who has ever been told they couldn’t do something, or that their dreams would never come true.

Songs to Check Out: The Waters, Put Me Thru, Celebrate, The Dreamer

1. GO:OD AM- Mac Miller (2015)

GO:OD AM became my favorite album 2 years ago, so any claims of being a bandwagon fan can stop right here. GO:OD AM is Mac Miller’s best work, and will be his classic record. It’s a comeback record, and dear God did Mac come back. Coming from the “Good times are killing me, please help” phase of Faces to the ‘Ok, I need to get my shit together” phase of GO:OD AM, Mac matured beyond anything I’d thought capable.

When I first heard the opener “Doors” I knew this would be different, and that I should definitely pay attention. Next up is “Brand Name” the second single, and my current morning alarm. Brand Name is the point where Mac wakes up and realizes how fake everything around him is, and how he needs to get his act together. Morbidly enough, Mac also predicts his death here with the line “to all the people who sell me drugs, don’t cut it with that bullshit, I’m not tryna join the 27 Club” which hits a little harder after someone mixed his drugs with that bullshit and killed him.

My favorite song on GO:OD AM is the two-part Perfect Circle/Godspeed, near the middle of the album. Not only is this the best song on the album, I think it’s the best song Mac has ever made. The first part “Perfect Circle” is a chest-thumping flex over an amazing bass line from Mississippi Mud” and piano chords, with an eery chorus in the background. Perfect Circle is everything I love about Mac Miller: introspection, great beats, and piano chords. “Godspeed” is a whole different beast, it’s one of the few songs that I have to turn off when it comes on because it doesn’t feel like it was made for me, but for the people in Mac’s life who’ve been worried about him. “Godspeed” starts with a voicemail from Mac’s brother around the holidays, after Mac hasn’t been around for awhile. Mac’s brother is heard wishing the best for him, and the voicemail complements the song material. Godspeed is a musical apology from someone who has trouble finding any other way to say what’s on his mind, and I relate to that.

This album means a lot to me, and I hope that I’ve convinced at least one person to check it out, you won’t regret it.

Songs to Check Out: Brand Name, Break the Law, Weekend, Perfect Circle/Godspeed, 100 Grandkids

Musical Motivation: A Story of Productivity

Today was a good day, I actually finished everything I wanted to get done. Usually, I only get to two or three things on my To-Do List, and get distracted and end up doing something completely different. What changed? That’s simple: music choice and medication.

I woke up at 7:30, which wasn’t planned, but super useful because I forgot to take the trash bins out, and I’m not too fond of letting this week’s trash become next week’s partially-decomposed sludge. After rushing outside in my sweatpants, I tried to go back to sleep, because why not, it’s my day off, I deserve to get some beauty rest. I was unsuccessful. 8:30 rolls around, and my Adderall is starting to kick in, so all hopes of sleep fly out the window.

I had no idea what I wanted to do today, so I do my usual job search, typing in “marketing internships” and “content writer” into Glassdoor, and applied to every job I think I could do. Now, usually, I get about 4 pages into the suggested jobs before getting distracted. Not today. I went into a groove, which was helped by the groovy tunes I had in the background (Mississippi Mud by Black Blood & the Chocolate Pickles), and next thing I knew, I was on page 36, and had applied to more than 20 jobs.

Now, I can tell the difference between “hyper-focus productive” and “Medicated productive”, and this wasn’t either, I think this might be the start of something new for me, I might not be a slacker anymore. I hope this continues, and I hope I continue to crush this job search, because if there’s anything that I’ve learned over these last 5 years, it’s that I never want to work fast-food again, and I’ll do whatever it takes to make that happen.

Now, this post is called “Musical Motivation” for a reason: I’ve been switching up my music choices, and I think it’s actually doing things other than broadening my sonic horizons, I think it’s actually improving my mood and how I think about things. Usually, I listen to super depressing music, which probably isn’t good for me, but it feels incredible to listen to someone who understands how you feel, and connects with that. My favorite time to listen to music is that time of night between 12am and 2am, I think there’s something about that time that brings out a different side of music, especially sad music. I think my late-night listening, mixed with sleep deprivation, has taken me off my A-game, but I think I’ve found a great replacement for it: morning music.

Now, I’m terrible at getting up in the morning, I usually sit in bed until I absolutely have to get up, or if I have to go to the bathroom, but today, I was wide awake, and had nothing better to do than get things done. I think that if I go to bed early, and wake up early, not only will I get better sleep, I’ll get better results from my job hunt, my gym time, and my relaxation time, because what could be better than completing all your To-Do’s for the day at noon?

5 Rappers Brands Could Learn From

5. Curren$y

Curren$y might not be a household name like the rest of the people on this list, but his strategy offers valuable insight. Curren$y is the prime example of why content is king, the man put out 3 albums this year, and it’s not even over yet. His content isn’t always perfect, but it has a consistent quality that makes up for the lack of steller content. Brands can learn that once you build a following, people will be hungry for as much as you can give them. So much so that they’ll overlook the fact that it isn’t awe-inspiring, just because you give them more than they could possibly need. So the key takeaway from Curren$y is this: just keep going, it doesn’t have to be perfect, it doesn’t have to be paradigm shifting, it just has to not suck.

4. Vince Staples

Vince Staples is “personal brand” embodied. He openly hates the rap status quo, making fun of rappers he thinks are below him, or acting fake. He is controversial, he’s abrasive, and isn’t afraid to call “bullshit”. This gathers attention, which can be translated to serve brands. Look at the Gillette ad. The fact that you know which one I mean means it worked. Controversy sells in post-Trump America. Your fans will support you, because they see an attack on something they like as an attack on themselves, and won’t hesitate to defend you ( to a point, don’t be EXACTLY like Trump) For example, Vince Staples said that the 90’s wasn’t when hip-hop was at it’s height, which is a correct statement, but people online flipped out. As a result, the number of people Googling “Vince Staples” skyrocketed. A percentage of those people then checked his music out, and liked what they heard. If your brand isn’t sticking out, you’re going to fade away. You need to shock the world into caring about your brand. Maybe criticize a commonly-known flaw in your product, or show some self-awareness in your social media, anything to set you apart from the crowded Twitter feeds and Facebook timelines.

3. Mac Miller

Mac Miller. I’m sure you’ve heard the name before. After his untimely death, rap news outlets jumped to cover the story, as well as anything Mac related. Don’t do this. There’s making the best out of a tragedy, and then there’s profiting off of people’s suffering and death. Mac had many lessons to teach us, he never let anyone else tell him what he should write about, he never cared what anyone else thought, he just focused on the music. He also networked like a motherfucker. Every rapper worth their mic has a song with Mac Miller, the variety of people he worked with speaks to his undeniable work ethic. You should reach out to your competitors and challenge them, it shows you care about your customers, and competition draws eyeballs, further helping your brand. Network with brands outside of your industry, make something that neither of your customers expect. They’ll be shocked, but if you do it correctly, they’ll see that you care about quality and collaboration. Early in Mac’s career, he recorded his life on tour, giving his fans an inside look into his day-to-day life. You can adopt this for your brand too. Film what you can, anything that gives your customers a sense of who you are behind the scenes, what you’re like behind the brand. People like to feel like they know you, like you matter to them. You never know what you’re customers might find interesting, so film as much as you can and let them decide what’s good.

2. Drake

Drake is popular for the same reasons pink guns are popular: he took something predominantly male, and found a way to make it appeal to girls. He took his brand of being a soft, emotional guy and applied to to rap. He also was one of the first artists to make an exclusivity deal with a streaming service. His deal with Apple Music was set up so thay they were the only place you could listen to Drake’s new album. This can be used by brands too. If you offer something that can’t be gained anywhere else, or if you can get them things no one else can, you’ll be successful. Additionally, Drake used internet memes as a sort of PR when it came out he didn’t write his own raps. He channeled that negativity and exposure, and rolled with it. He made a fool of himself before Meek Mill, the origin of the negativity, could use it against him. Brands can learn from that level of self-awareness.

1. Lil Nas X

Lil Nas X is the best marketer I’ve ever seen in hip-hop. I’ve been following him on Twitter since he was a lowly shitposter (a meme creator who purposely makes bad memes), but now is one of the most talked-about names in rap. His single “Old Town Road”, which you’ve definitely heard, is the longest-charting song ever, beating Mariah Carey and Michael Jackson by 3 weeks. He maintained that streak by inundating us with memes, Twitter posts, Tic-Toc videos, and by making the song itself into a meme. Lil Nas X understands social media better than any other rapper, he knows you can make something popular very quickly by using every facet of every channel available to push his content. The song itself is also a thing of beauty; catchy, memorable quotes, short enough to replay, with an addictive chorus that won’t get out of my head. Furthermore, when you see “Billy Ray Cyrus” featured, you’re surprised that the dad from Hannah Montana is on a rap song, and that makes you want to hear the song. You need to divert expectations from time to time, the last thing you want from a growing brand is predictability, you want the people waiting to see what you’re going to do next, and I sure as hell want to see where Lil Nas X goes next.