Artistic Excellence

What is art? Well, that answer will be very different depending on who you ask. To me, art is anything that makes someone feel something. I know, it’s a super broad definition, but I think that it needs to be broad in order to cover all creative mediums. Art isn’t just some asshole throwing paint droplets on a canvas, it’s the emotion the artist embedded in the piece, combined with the reception that the piece receives. Now, because I consider what I do art, I have to acknowledge that other people may have differing opinions on my work. This is where I struggle.

I’m super selfish when it comes to art: I don’t make things for other people, I make things because it helps me keep some semblance of sanity. Each medium that I make things in has its own purposes and flaws, but it really comes down to how I feel at a particular moment in time. I honestly couldn’t give less of a fuck what you think about my content, I’m more interested in seeing where you would build upon what I’ve created, and if you can correct my sometimes-spotty grammar: even better. When I look at other people’s art, I immediately blast off into space, creating a narrative based on how the piece strikes me, and use that feeling to help make my own stuff.

I try not to be wild pretentious when it comes to art, I know I don’t always achieve this goal, but fuck you, it’s a process, I’ll get there eventually. I used to be obsessed with this “tortured genius” idea, but the more I learn about the world, the dumber I realize I am, and the more I look back at myself and realize I was a huge douchebag. I used to think that only miserable people could make good art, but now I realize that being functional and happy while maintaining creativity is the more impressive feat. I respect people like Charles Dickens, Curren$y, Mac Miller, Van Gogh, David Ogilvy, and pre-MAGA Kanye West. They are prolific artists, people obsessed with the creative process, always working, no matter what it does to their mental health (with the exception of Curren$y, who seems like he’s living his best life right now). I feel the same way, but with a thousandth of the creative potential. Due to a lovely neurological disorder, I have a pretty rocky relationship with sanity, so I do my best to be as clear and concise as possible, even when my brain is firing off signals in every direction.

I may be nuts, but if I’m properly motivated, I will give 200% effort in achieving my goals. It might strain my relationships, ruin my physical and mental well-being, and my overall quality of life, but if I want to do something, and I have the ability to do so, I will devote every fabric of my being to achieving my goals. The only issue is that sometimes my goals are fucking stupid, and shouldn’t be pursued. For instance, I can say with complete certainty that I spent more time and effort getting the Fall Camo for the M21 sniper rifle in Modern Warfare 2 than I did getting a 3.7 GPA in college. Maybe I’m actually smart, but more likely, this country has devalued education to the point where grades don’t matter, and that I’m just average. I can snipe the fuck out of you in a video game though, so it’s a bit of a win-win.

Under The Influence

We are all influenced by the things we hear and see and do. There’s no avoiding it, but it definitely changes you, and that’s okay. I’ve been getting super into modal jazz, and I’ve noticed myself using 50’s slang that I’ve heard in the music. I think it’s a part of growth; you expand your horizons, and adapt the things you like. If they stick, they become part of who you are, if they don’t, they fade away.

I’m not really keyed into the whole “woke” thing, so if I’m guilty of cultural appropriation, my bad, but I’m just blindly struggling through life, so I’m not really thinking too much about it. I think that your influences make you who you are, or at least who you want to be.

I’ve got to give credit to all the people who’ve influenced me, my parents, my friends, and all of the musicians who have sent me on musical K-holes that have introduced me to the things I hold dearest. Without all of my stoner friends, I wouldn’t have gotten into rap, and I wouldn’t have delved into the samples for more music, and I would probably still be listening to Disturbed and punching walls and shit.

I’ve also got to give it up to weed and whiskey, that combo has made me a lot more open-minded and gotten me to try things I never would’ve dreamed of doing sober, like listening to talk radio, or eating a bird’s nest (not a real one, a one made of potatoes and veggies and shit.)

To wrap it up, try things, you might like them, or if you don’t, you might get a funny story out of it, so it’s a win-win.

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.

Safety Blankets

The world is a terrible, cold, unfeeling place. The only thing that makes me feel better are the “safety blankets” that I’ve developed over the years; those things that make me feel comfortable and safe.

Right now, music, whiskey, reefer, and bad T.V are my safety blankets. If I have the right dosage of all 4 of those things, I’ll be alright, and that’s so important to me.

I haven’t been sleeping well. I’ll either go to sleep at 11pm and wake up at 12pm, or I’ll be up until 3 or 4am, and wake up at 3 or 4pm. I’ve been trying to fall asleep sober, but it just doesn’t work. How does anyone sleep sober? It’s fucking impossible. I’ve tried everything I can think of; tea before bed, turning off all my devices and reading before bed, listening to jazz, going to bed early (this one’s the worst fucking piece of advice I’ve gotten so far), I’ve taken melatonin, Zzzquil, Ambien, you name it, I’ve probably tried it.

Wouldn’t you know it, whiskey and weed put you to sleep like nothing else. As I’m writing this, I’ve got a glass of Evan Williams and an edible in my system, so I’m hopefully going to get some sleep tonight. I’ve cut back on my usage though, because it got out of hand for awhile, and every once in awhile I still overdo it, but for the most part I’ve gotten a grip. Reefer is like a sleep cheat-code: no matter what time it is, a few hits off a joint, or a couple bong hits and I’ll be able to drift off into that sweet, sweet restful abyss. I hope there isn’t ever a time when it stops working, I’d be really screwed.

I don’t only need my safety blanket to sleep, I need it to talk to people too. I don’t like it, but I’ve gotten so awkward and anxious around people, so it’s in both our best interests that I have a couple drinks in me. Neither of us is going to enjoy the interaction if I’m sober. I used to be good with people. I used to be the guy my friends would send to talk to people because they couldn’t. I don’t know what happened to me. Maybe it was working at Dunks and dealing with the worst of humanity all day. Maybe it’s because I was always awkward, but had enough self-confidence to muscle through the awkward. Who knows.

Music is the safety blanket that is least harmful to me. I probably wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for the music I listen to, it’s kept me going in the times I’ve been drowning and can’t see the good in anything. Music is one of the few things that actually makes me feel things, which is super uncomfortable because it makes me think I’m dead inside. If I’m ever having one of those days, I have a playlist that’s specifically meant to break me out of it with all of the songs that make me smile and laugh. Music is the biggest help, it’s one of the few things that makes me happy when I’m sober, and that is so important to me. If I can figure out which album I’m in the mood for, I can determine how I’m feeling and begin to process that emotion. Everyone has their coping mechanisms, I’ve spent the last few years developing ones that won’t kill me, so I guess that’s progress.

Music Is The New Religion

I’ve always noticed a connection between music and religion; they both try and explain the world around us, they both inspire us to be better, they both try to take us out of our heads. Kanye West literally featured God on Yeezus, solidifying my theory that he might actually need to go therapy and stop jerking his ego off so much.

Music is undoubtably art, but is religion? To me, art is anything that can make you feel something, and religion was called “the opiate of the masses.” Does that make religion art?

Those pastors at superchurches in Texas whip their crowds into a frenzy, and help them feel better about themselves, albeit for a fee. Are they not artists? Now, some of them might be con-artists, but I think the majority are just skilled public speakers who want to make a difference.

Let’s get back to music for a second. I’ve been on Twitter long enough to see some wild things, but the craziest of them all has to be “music Twitter”: where people debate who’s the best, who’s the worst, who makes them feel what emotions where, etc. This is where I started to realize the power these artists have, some of these people say that so-and-so’s music kept them alive, or helped them quit drugs, or acted as a safety blanket after a traumatic event. Isn’t that what religion does?

There are even some people who worship artists. I saw one person talk about Frank Ocean like he was a God amongst men, and attacked anyone who said any different. Is that any different than arguing about Bible interpretations or the Old vs. New Testament?

Almost everyone listens to music, I don’t know anyone who doesn’t, and truthfully, I don’t think I’d trust someone who isn’t moved by anything in any genre. Even Charles Manson liked music. It helps people see the world from different perspectives, which is something the world desperately needs right now. It teaches lessons to people who won’t listen to anyone else. It entertains us and turns the volume down when we have a bad day.

Music has helped me immensely, when I have a really awful day, I don’t want to watch TV, I don’t want to overeat, I just want to sit back and listen to my records and tune the rest of the world out.

10 Things We Should Leave Behind in 2020

1) Begging for new music on Twitter

This is something I’m seeing more and more, and I think it’s so entitled and stupid to go to artist’s Twitter pages, and demand they drop new music whenever they want it. What happened to patience? What makes a person think that just because they’re a fan, they get to decide when an artist puts something out? Even when they do release new music, artist’s are inundated with people asking for even more. How greedy can you be?

2) Fake clickbait Headlines

Ok, I totally get why these are used, but c’mon, be a little creative with them. I know my titles aren’t the best sometimes, but if I ever have a post called “10 Celebrity Fails, You Won’t BELIEVE Number 6!!”, fucking shoot me. These all use the same stupid formula, and the only people it works on are the type of people who care what celebrities are doing on vacation.

3) TMZ Comments

If you haven’t heard of TMZ, you’re lucky, it’s a terrible, toxic wasteland of humanity. The comments section is even worse. I’ve never seen so many racist comments in one place, and I go on Reddit every day. If you don’t believe me, just search “Obama TMZ” and see the bottom-barrel of society.

4) Opinion News Shows

Let’s make the news “news” again. No more Tucker Carlson, no more Rachel Maddow, no more Fox and Friends. I want people with journalistic integrity on the news again, not some mouthpiece that spews their opinion as fact. Opinion news has only grown since Trump was elected, and I don’t see it going away as long as he’s around. It’s just too easy to get viewers by parroting their opinions back to people who feel strongly about things they know nothing about.

5) Meme Rap

Ok, Lil Nas X can stay, but that’s because I’m fascinated by his marketing strategy. The rest of them have to go though, Lil Pump doesn’t contribute anything new to music, Lil Windex is only funny for about 5 minutes before he gets on my nerves, and Rich Brian has pivoted to a more serious style, which is good because he actually makes decent music sometimes.

6) YouTube Pranks

How the fuck are these still around? What type of legal team does someone like Vitaly have? How can he just go around fucking with people and not get sued? Maybe he’s staging all these pranks, but I don’t think he can afford to pay actors enough to get punched in the face on YouTube. Also, those channels where they go into “the hood” and start messing with alleged gang members who usually carry firearms. One of these such channels actually got shot by pretending to be a zombie, so I’m hoping we see less of them.

7) Donald Trump

My feelings about Donald Trump can be summed up by the YG song titled “Fuck Donald Trump”

8) Outrage Trolls

These are the people who comment edgy shit to piss people off. These people live off of the negative attention, and it’s been going on long enough that people should understand that by now. Eventually, these people grow up or give up, so it’s just a matter of ignoring them and waiting it out.

9) Clout Chasers

Clout is a word that I’d never heard of until 2019, so it’s only fair we leave it there. Clout is a stupid new word for popularity, and people usually gain clout by doing stupid things and filming them, hoping they’ll go viral and become influencers. One such person threw a chair off a 10th story balcony, sending it crashing into the street. Aside from how stupid it is to film yourself committing a crime, it’s even stupider to think that this will be your big break in life. Get a real job, asshole.

10) Social Media

This one isn’t going away anytime soon, so I’ll have to just suck it up. Social media is way too important for business to get rid of, so until we find another way to reach large amounts of people for free, social media isn’t going away. It’s a shame, really, how quickly it’s effected us. We care so much about what other people are doing, that we forget that most of it is bullshit that’s made strictly to make you feel inferior.

Frank Sinatra Invented Swag

Frank Sinatra was the shit. If you haven’t heard his music, stop reading this for a second, go to YouTube and search for “My Way”, or click this link if you’re lazy. Frank Sinatra is the embodiment of American excellence, he was a hard-working, hard-drinking, hard-loving showman with a voice that sounds like polished mahogany.  Frank Sinatra was the first real “rockstar”, fuck Elvis. Did Elvis light JFK’s cigarettes for him? No, he was too busy being dead. Did Elvis have an incredible batch of Jack Daniels named after him? No, he was too busy acting in shitty movies and banging underage girls and practicing karate.

Frank Sinatra came from humble beginnings, his parents were Italian immigrants who came over to America to provide their children a better life, and thank God they did. During the Great Depression, when every other child was dressing in tattered rags and dirty shoes, Frank was donning expensive suits. His parents wanted him to be the best-dressed kid in the neighborhood, so they gave him what little money they had to insure he never felt inferior. Those are good parents.

Now, there is some speculation that Frank had some mob ties, I say “So what?” If you’re an Italian immigrant in the 1900’s, and you grew up in a tightly connected community, and you care about the people around you, you’re bound to have a few less-than-savory friends. Just another reason to respect Ol’ Blue Eyes, as he was called for obvious reasons. This man was so suave that he actually got arrested for seducing a woman in New Jersey. Think about that for a second: it actually was a crime to be as smooth as Frank Sinatra. Talk about the real Smooth Criminal. Your grandmother probably had a crush on Frankie, she probably bought his records and learned every word.

Moving past Frank Sinatra the man, let’s talk about Frank Sinatra the singer. The first concept album EVER was by Frank Sinatra. 8 songs about love. The Voice of Frank Sinatra probably was playing in the background as your grandparents were getting jiggy with it after the picture show. Over the course of his 50 year career, Frank Sinatra’s 59 studio albums dominated pop charts, and defined what was cool at the time. His music inspired so many people, from artists like Amy Winehouse and Logic, to actors like Robin Williams and George Clooney.

Long story short: if you don’t like Frank Sinatra, I don’t like you.

Image result for frank sinatra

Even his mugshot is dapper as fuck.

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