"Yeezus," the new and almost pathologically anticipated Kanye West album, was leaked online two weeks ago and then, probably out of custom, released legally last week. Upon first listen it reminded me of Nine Inch Nails, Death Grips, and my dad—but not because West now has a two-week-old child with girlfriend Kim Kardashian.
When my father was in undergrad at a small HBCU in the Midwest, he joined the storied black fraternity Kappa Alpha Psi. Fraternity chapters, despite their ethnic and regional differences, will nevertheless always share some DNA, and so it shouldn't surprise you that my dad's frat was big on giving people nicknames. Some brothers were called things [...]
Few musicians move so fluidly between genres as drummer and producer Karriem Riggins. As a jazz sideman, Riggins has played with jazz artists like Diana Krall, Milt Jackson and Oscar Peterson while simultaneously contributing beats and productions to records by Common, J Dilla, the Roots, Erykah Badu and others. 2012 has been a particularly fruitful year for Riggins. It began with his appearance on Paul McCartney’s most recent record, Kisses on the Bottom, in which the former Beatle covered and channeled the prewar pop songwriters that he listened to as a child. And in October, Riggins released his first solo LP, a kaleidoscopic instrumental hip-hop album called Alone Together, on [...]
At a performance last August, the deliberate and sharply dressed emcee, who is also well known as an actor, announced his “official transition” to a huge audience gathered in the parking lot of a popular pub and pizzeria in Anchorage, Alaska: “My professional name will be my chosen and my legal name, which is Yasiin Bey. … And I don’t want to have to wait for it to be in Source or Vibe or someplace. I figure, we’re all here. We can see each other.” And then he spelled it out for them: “Y-A-S-I-I-N, first name. Last name: B-E-Y.”
When a few Alaskans made some disapproving noises, Bey responded, [...]
The text at the beginning of Drake's video for "HYFR"—"On October 24th 2011 Aubrey 'Drake' Graham chose to get re-bar mitzvah'd as a re-commitment to the Jewish religion … the following is a clip displaying the event that took place"—can be taken as seriously or sardonically as you want. Drake's much-anticipated "bar mitzvah" video, released on the first night of Passover, was originally hyped on the web as a "re-creation" of his original childhood ceremony. We get actual footage from baby Drake’s celebration at the intro, but beyond that, this is a music video staged at a bar mitzvah. If we hadn’t been told in advance that it means [...]
Consider this: according to Discogs.com, about 800 remixes were released in 1983. In 1990, more than 4,000; in 2000, almost 15,000. And in 2010, there were 22,750 remixes released, an increase of more than 450% in twenty years. Not surprisingly, as that number has leapt up, remixes also have come to represent a much larger share of what's being released: in 1983, they accounted for 2% of all releases; 7% in 1990; 17% in 2000; until, by 2010, a staggering 20% of all releases were remixes.
How did we get to the point where a one-hit-wonder band from the '90s like Marcy Playground can release an entire [...]
When I was in eighth grade, I was madly in love. But the girl, who I wanted to marry and sometimes wrote sad poems about, didn't feel the same way. So I decided to prove my love with a mixtape. For me, music was (and still is) the most intense force in the world, so I thought this would truly make her reciprocate my affection. I set my plan in motion by stealing my oldest brother's Motley Crue cassette, putting pieces of tape over those tiny holes so I could record over the screeching of Vince Neil, and adding songs to my mixtape that would show just how great I [...]
Sad hip-hop news: Clive "Kool Herc" Campbell, whose block parties in the Bronx in the 1970s gave birth to hip-hop, is sick with an undisclosed illness and having trouble paying his medical bills. A Tribe Called Quest's Q-Tip suggests, "maybe island/defjam, warner, interscope, can pay dj kool herc's hospital bills?" That would be nice.
"To millions of fans worldwide, he was the trend-setting, backwards-pants wearing one-half of Kriss Kross who loved making music. But to us, he was just Chris—the kind, generous and fun-loving life of the party. Though he was only with us a short time, we feel blessed to have been able to share some incredible moments with him. His legacy will live on through his music, and we will forever love him." —Donna Kelly Pratte eulogizes her son Chris, a.k.a. "Mac Daddy," who was found dead yesterday at his home in Atlanta, of an apparent drug overdose. He was 34.
From time to time, Awl Music will be bringing you a themed playlist, which can best be enjoyed on the Awl Music app for iPad.
Early adopters in countries like Morocco, Algeria and Palestine have a more strongly developed and time-tested hip-hop scene—but across the greater Arab world, hip-hop has risen up alongside folk anthems as a revolutionary soundtrack.
And in the Western world, Arab diaspora rap preoccupies itself with questions of Eastern and Western dislocated identity. These artists take a great deal of inspiration from some of the greats of politically conscious rap in the eighties and nineties in the United States, particularly Public Enemy and Wu-Tang Clan. [...]
In college, I dated a girl who applied for a job at an Express store in the mall. Part of her training involved something called the "Express You! Street Verbage [sic] Guide"—an almost unbelievably wrongheaded dictionary of street terms and slang that Express management wanted sales associates to learn so as to best relate to customers. My friend, a greeter-in-training, was instructed to review and memorize it. To be fair, this was the mid-90s. Illmatic had just dropped, Mariah Carey was putting out remixes with ODB, and it was virtually impossible to avoid TLC’s “Waterfalls.” But never mind that. The guide was funny even then—and as soon as I heard [...]
Aubrey “Drake” Graham released his sophomore album, Take Care, the other week. On it, Drake talks about many women, and sometimes a single woman, and all the ways they’ve hurt and mistreated the rapper-singer from Toronto. And, of course, there is one song on the album he reserves to sing directly to the ladies. It’s called “Make Me Proud"—and it’s his requisite Song for Women.
Late on Friday night, I joined a lot of other white people at the Highline Ballroom to see Odd Future. At the door, a girl in a Juicy sweatshirt handed out paper masks of Tyler, The Creator’s face. The image was borrowed from his self-designed Goblin album cover. There were eyeholes punched out, so that you couldn’t see the milky black irises he’d Photoshopped onto his own face, and so that every person there could resemble Tyler while they chanted “swag,” “goblin,” and “Free Earl," who needs no freeing, at the 20-year-old with a microphone and a record deal who claims not to care for his own music.
"It was definitely a landmark for the underground movement of the '90s. Young people who've never touched wax probably don't know what the closing of a store like this means… It just means that we're heading to a place where music won't exist in a physical form anymore." -Rap producer DJ Spinna on the news that Fat Beats, a store on the corner of 6th Ave. and 8th Street in Manhattan that specialized in vinyl records and served a hip-hop community that might best be described as the opposite of this, will close its doors next month after 16 years in operation. (The LA outpost [...]
This week, hip-hop presents us with an interesting problem: Which is more horrible, a song from a second-rate publicity whore rehashing his biggest claim to fame, which happens to have been making a sex tape with a woman who has gone to become far more successful and famous than he has? Or an extraordinarily clunky country-rap hybrid that makes a great mess in its attempt to tackle the difficult subject of race in America. We'd all be better off ignoring both these things—each, from all appearances, created in a cynical effort to drum up otherwise undeserved attention. But their coincidental arrival has me curious. What is worse for the [...]
"Be clear. Frank Ocean, as part of a hip hop collective (Odd Future), will go down in history as the most high profile hip hop/R&B artist to go public with their homosexuality or bi-sexuality. In the same year that President Obama publicly supports gay marriage, and Anderson Cooper comes out of the closet, it will be really interesting to see how one of the more openly homophobic subcultures reacts to Frank’s honesty. Is his audience younger and more open-minded so it won’t phase them? Will other long-rumored gay, lesbian, or bisexual hip hop stars be inspired to make their own statements? Ironically, Frank’s crew has put out some really [...]
I didn't even know that Thebe Kgositsile, a.k.a. Earl Sweatshirt, went to my elementary school before I started leafing through old copies of "The Poet Tree," the poetry collection from our alma mater, Community Magnet School in Los Angeles.
His poem "Mummies" (my favorite of the two here) needs no explanation, except to note that it's incredible to see a five- or six-year-old with the swagger of Biggie or the like. This bigger-than-the-world-and-all-the-scary-things-in-it mentality is something that many rappers front, but what makes Earl Sweatshirt so amazing is that he's genuinely had it since he was a tot (just compare his poem to the one below his to see the [...]
Tucked on 7th Avenue, between 35th and 36th, sits the music store Rock and Soul, which has been providing the city's DJs with gear and vinyl since 1975. Over the decades, a number of influential DJs and musicians have made Rock and Soul their hub, among them Kid Capri, who deejayed for seven seasons of Def Comedy Jam and has produced tracks for Heavy D and Quincy Jones; DJ Funkmaster Flex, who played a pivotal role in introducing hip hop across the radio waves on NYC’s Hot 97; and legendary hip hop pioneer Kool Herc.
Part of a series on collaborations that we now take for granted but initially made little sense.
Hip hop’s lyrical narrative often gets unfairly abbreviated to being about nothing more than posturing and persona, a never-ending series of mostly meaningless boasts about how nice my rhymes sound, and so on. That’s been a component of the story for a long time—recall Sugar Hill Gang’s proud pronouncement, in 1979, that “I got a color TV, so I can see/the Knicks play basketball”—but hip hop verses are also a place for confessions, specifically for those of black men. There's a reason, for example, that Scarface once wrote a song [...]
Mister Cee, a Hot 97 DJ and semi-old-school hip-hop guy, was arrested last week and charged with public lewdness and exposure, according to the NYPD. The rumor mill has been great on the blogs! A sample: "Rumors of Mr. Cee engaging in homosexual activity have run rampant for years"! And there's some great hedging: "allegedly arrested after he was caught receiving oral sex from a male prostitute dressed as a woman, according to several news reports." What could it all mean? Perhaps… an "April Fool's Day prank or possibly someone that is not too fond of Calvin Lebrun aka DJ Mister Cee set him up [...]