Massive thank you to all our fantastic contributors and interviewees: James Ball, Dieter Ashton, Isaac Caplan Wilson, Alex Wakefield, Damon Aaron, and Gadget of Millennium Jazz Music. The biggest thank you of all to pause co-founder, layout designer and trap mega-enthusiast Olly Howard.
Contributors Isa Jaward @isajaward
Contents The Successful Trap Artist
Contact Field Orchestra
What’s Luv Got To Do With It?
7 The Casette Tape Revival: Worth buying into? 10 Wiley: Godfather?
And another thing... Pause Playlist
Editor’s Note The zine you hold in your hands had its humble beginnings as a Tumblr blog I set up three years ago when I was told it was necessary to show my ‘passion’ for music journalism. With the help of dear friends, pause has become a bonafide print publication filled with features, reviews, think-pieces and artworks by London’s finest creative minds (ahem!). Joking aside, it’s been a labour of love and one that I couldn’t have done alone. I hope you enjoy the first issue and keep it in mint condition – it’ll be a collector’s item someday! With love Isa x
James Ball @JamesBall_1993
Dieter Ashton dieterolafashton.tumblr.com Isaac Caplan Wilson @customgcc
Olly Howard @orhow
The Successful Trap Artist
Can Gucci Mane ever be considered a success story? In 2003, T.I. kicked off his second album Trap Muzik with a hook from the title track that repeated, “This is a trap. This ain’t no album. This ain’t no game. This is a trap”. While the album gained both artistic and musical plaudits, its starkest legacy has been its position as a watershed moment for the trap sound that was to grow in both popularity and stature, evolving into arguably the most ubiquitous hip-hop sub-genre in 2016. The sound was not only
transforming the musical makeup of Atlanta, but also inviting the public to take a look into the lives of those residing within the traps of the city. As T.I.’s title track hook suggested, trap as a sub-genre is above all a product of its environment; its roots firmly located in the mazy, deprived, and overwhelmingly African-American districts of Atlanta. Here a trap commonly denotes where drugs are found and sold. Noisey’s excellent Noisey Atlanta Youtube series explains that the city was built around
railroads, necessary given that the city functioned, and still functions, as a major distribution and transportation hub. These one-way streets and dead ends pockmark Atlanta’s districts and those who were wishing to buy their drugs would quite literally get them from a trap. Trap synthesises the brash sound of the Atlanta crunk scene and the storytelling style of preceding Atlantean outfits such as OutKast and Goodie Mob. While the latter re-imagined their environment in sombre reflection, trap artists take a much more active and involved stance. These rappers transform themselves from subjects into agents of their drug-fuelled environment; artists are no longer passive observers of their surroundings but active participants. While other artists must get credit for their part in the roots of the trap genre, Gucci Mane has become one of the scene’s most recognisable faces. While T.I. introduced the notion of the ‘trap’ to the wider public, Gucci Mane became its fervent spokesperson, a task that he has readily taken on for over a decade. The rapper’s ascent has been continuously fuelled by his enigmatic persona, a factor that is often indistinguishable from his music. He cuts a controversial figure, an artist who is as famous for his music as his soundbites; as famous for his vast discography as his Bart Simpson chain. His life is memorialised and glamorised in both street fable and internet folklore. On the May 26th, he was released four months early from a two-year prison sentence, one of many previous convictions and run-ins with the law. His Instagram feed flooded with photos of the rapper posturing around his lavish mansion, the all-white pianos and pristine pools a marked contrast to Terre Haute, the Indiana penitentiary that he called home for two years. Gucci Mane had returned from the depths of American society back to its summit, the American Dream re-imagined.
“How can a rapper who is at once revered and wealthy be considered successful if he releases the bulk of his material while incarcerated?”
It should come as no surprise that trap artists are so often incarcerated, the connection between the music and lived reality running to the core of the trap sound. Curtis Snow, a former drug dealer and co-director of the documentary Snow on Tha Bluff, states that, “when a rapper’s rapping, you should be able to smell the dope cooking”; ““you can’t have the trap without the studio, without the dope.” This raises a question that is easy to suggest but tough to answer: can a trap artist ever be truly successful? Success is ingrained in American society, integral to the formation of the American cultural psyche. The conventional success story is one of social mobility that is often tied into an honest, hardworking attitude, the revered nothing-to-something tale. However, the rise of the trap music, and the windfall of publicity, and thus money, has mutated this story. Gucci Mane asks on his new album “How a drug dealer from East Atlanta go platinum?”. He makes a valid point: how can a rapper who is at once revered and wealthy be considered successful if he releases the bulk of his material while incarcerated? It’s a dilemma that is perfectly summarised by Sophie Kautz, who suggests that it is indeed Gucci Mane’s jail experience that feeds into the rapper’s success. Run-D.M.C. sold their image through Adidas while Gucci sells his through incarceration, sacrificing his body for his image. So can a trap artist ever truly be successful if their ascent runs parallel to a trap lifestyle, one that is pockmarked by instability and criminality? It is a question that cuts down a number of different paths. Economically, yes. In 2014, he earned $1,300,000 from mixtapes sold while incarcerated. Through this financial success, Gucci Mane has continued to establish a firm and reputable musical career for himself. Artistically, the self-proclaimed Trap Lord has inspired a new generation of trap artists, and his fingerprints are both sonically and visually seen in the formation
of the drill sound that exploded from Chicago’s Southside districts in the early 2010s. In a recent interview with VladTV, drill rapper Lil Bibby openly admitted that Gucci Mane was his idol. It is a position that Gucci relishes, reiterating on his new album that “All of these rappers are all my children.” Clearly a trap artist can be truly successful; Gucci Mane is revered in both conventional and unconventional ways but this success is often laden with baggage. With his artistic and economic success comes a persistent level of legal instability at the cost of his own personal liberty.The conventional success story makes it to the top, and remains; the trap artist wavers between extreme success and extreme failure. Where even traditional rap artists such as 50 Cent and Jay-Z have cemented their place at the zenith of American culture through business ventures, Gucci Mane has spent his time in the public spotlight in a state of permanent flux. While the rapper’s career and life should not be patronised nor understated, it is clear that his lofty personal achievements and vast cultural influence come at a dear personal cost. His Trap God tag is more than just a title; it’s very much a Christian depiction of the man’s life, a man whose success is inseparable from his personal sacrifice. Long live Gucci. James
Gucci at home.
What’s Luv Got To Do With It? Has 00’s R&B stood the test of time?
I was standing, unzipped, next to two complete strangers at the urinals for a themed night in Hoxton when the gentle guitar riff of Ashanti and Ja Rule’s classic duet ‘Always On Time’ floated in from the main room downstairs. Silently cursing my being away from the dancefloor, I began to hum the tune to myself. Soon the guy next to me had joined, and then the guy next to him. By the time the hook started, we were all belting along with Ashanti at full volume; still, I might add, proudly unzipped.
Such a reaction from people is inevitable if the booze is flowing and the music of their youth is blasting. Fits of overwhelming nostalgia are a certainty, as rose-tinted earbuds intercept the sounds before they reach the higher, critical processes of your brain. Surely the heartfelt full-volume singalong, and the rapturous booty shakings observable from the very first bar of Nelly’s ‘Ride With Me’ are exaggerated? Can the cheesy, overwhelmingly anachronistic R&B of the new millennium’s first decade honestly be as good as they feel? The answer to that is an unequivocal yes. The outfits may have been a trainwreck, but the music most certainly was not.
Coming off the truly classic 90’s era stars like Jon B and TLC, one might be initially inclined to disregard the longevity of the earnest, over-the- top stars from the following decade. But the unusual soundscapes that Timbaland and his contemporaries created sound as vital and revolutionary today as they ever did. In moving away from crooning slow jams, the new generation prioritised club bangers over tender song-writing. Heavy synths and the transitioning function of the 808 lead for asound that was near indistinguishable from the chart-topping hip-hop of 50 Cent and Missy Elliott; a trend that has continued into the present day, with crossover stars like the man with a thousand imitators, Aubrey ‘Drake’ Graham, being impossible to pin down into one camp.
So yes, of course these carefully designed bangers hold up in the club. But does that make them great songs? Why am I immune from the nostalgia goggles? Well, for the most part, I only discovered these tunes in the past year. Titans like Ashanti and Kelly Rowland were virtually unknown to me, and I was only aware of cross-medium superstars like Jennifer Lopez from their pursuits outside of music (God, I despise you Monster In Law).
Much of this was due to an internal crisis in my youth of struggling to determine what ‘good’ music was. Having a musician father with an immediate distrust of anything he heard on TV meant that many of my formative years were spent immediately disregarding music I broadly identified as popular. This was a constant challenge, and one I still struggle with today; a battle for supremacy between enjoying something at its face value and disregarding it because I wasn’t ‘supposed’ to like it. As a result, the decade passed me by.
When I started university I began discovering tunes at a great pace, and my budding DJ instincts began to make the connection between any heater from Justin Timberlake’s or Ludacris’ impressive catalogues and enthusiastic dancing from everyone who heard them. Something within a ridiculous singalong of any R-Kelly song you care to name brings the party like nothing I have ever observed (to say nothing of the glorious pipes of Mariah Carey, Britney Spears, or Kelly Rowland, inspiring and heartfelt in equal measure). To disregard this as mere nostalgia is a disservice to the revolutionary practices of the trailblazing producers of the era. The Neptunes’ iconic stripped down, funky beats adorning the greatest hits of everyone from Kelis to Ray J - Kaleidoscope stands for me as the pinnacle for the consistency of its sonic soundscapes. The jazzy melodies and driving drumlines of Rich Harrison on Amerie’s opus ‘1thing’ or J-Lo’s seminal ‘Get Right’. The metallic guitar riffs of a She’kspere hit, like Destiny’s Child’s ‘Bills Bills Bills’ or the incomparable ‘No Scrubs’ by TLC. And then, of course, Timbaland, my all-time favourite producer. With every beat comes an unmatched, frantic energy, an orchestral sequence of claps and kicks a mystery to everyone but the man himself. With immediately identifiable synth melodies and a who’s who of collaborators, first and foremost being the late, great, Aaliyah Haughton. So yes, the sound of the noughties undoubtedly holds up today. And while that may be stating the obvious for many, I felt compelled to write this piece out of utter adoration for an era that I blithely ignored while it was happening. Here’s to the effortless hitmakers who truly taught me how to move a room, and showed me beyond question that just because something is popular, does not mean it’s shit. Olly
THE CASSETTE TAPE REVIVAL: Worth buying into?
It’s 1996; I’m 4 years old and have just begun my first (musical) love affair. Spice, the Spice Girls’ debut album, is being played endlessly on an unstable cassette player in mine and my brother’s shared bedroom. From the *chick* of the deck closing to the comical sound of voices rewinding at lightning speed, everything about cassette tapes made them a joy to listen to - at the time. Too young to understand vinyls or take myself to Woolworths to buy a £1.99 CD single, tapes provided the soundtrack to my earliest years and lay the foundation for my future musical appetite. While the physical aspects of cassette tape listening - rewinding, fast-forwarding and getting spools of tape caught in the machine – could be problematic, part of the fun was the hard work involved in listening (it took some effort to hear a cassette album from start to finish glitch-free). Call me a snob, but I believe that music streaming services, though slick, convenient and ubiquitous, spoon-feed us music; their algorithms, album suggestions and ad-free bundles makes us lazy and care less about what we’re listening to. “Nostalgia is big right now,” says Gadget, founder of Bandcamp-based label Millennium Jazz Music. “[Cassettes are] easier on the pocket for labels, bands and artists, and they’re pretty cute. When you have a mixture of mature collectors who always kept the cassette alive, an increase of young people becoming fond of them, and of course the trendies spreading the word, you end up with quite a large audience.” This is certainly the case for vinyl records, which are having an unprecedented revival thanks to the mature collectors and ‘trendies’. Artists are increasingly releasing their albums on vinyl, with new plates fetching around £20 in shops, and rarer cuts many times more on online marketplace Discogs. Cassette tapes, however, are a much more wallet-friendly purchase for around £6/$8 from various outlets. Purchasing cassette tapes, indeed any dated media, is purchasing that ineffable feeling of nostalgia. If you grew up listening to a certain format, then you’ll likely want to buy into it once you’re old enough to have disposable income. Although I can’t see this generation’s streaming format becoming a sought-after format in 20 or so years, who’s to say what people will place value on in the future? As long as humans attach meaning to objects and places, nostalgia will always be a commodity.
“Nostalgia is big right now”
Although sales of the cassette tape have remained low since the onset of their ‘resurgence’ in 2009, there’s clearly a demand for them. More and more tape-only labels are becoming established in Europe and the US, sold via their own websites and platforms such as Bandcamp and Big Cartel. Cassette Store Day, celebrating its fourth year this October, must also be mentioned. Founded by DJ Jen Long, the international event will be held in the United Kingdom, USA, Germany, Japan and France – a global demographic that speaks volumes about the format’s appeal. Speaking to the Guardian, Long attested that it wasn’t just a ‘hipster trend’, but about supporting new artists and labels, as well as making economic sense. Pressing vinyl records can cost around £9 per unit, whereas a single blank cassette costs around £0.60. Both formats offer the ‘album’ experience, but the latter poses much less of a risk for labels with limited funds. The biggest argument against the resurgence of tapes lies in their arguably sub-standard sound quality. While some listeners love the ‘warm’, ‘fat’ sound of a cassette tape, the format is up against tough competition; vinyls have both the resonance and prestige to take top position, with .WAV files - a worthy substitute favoured by digital DJs – coming in second. Growing up through the respective heydays of cassette tapes, CDs, mp3s and streaming formats, as well as the recent vinyl resurgence, I’ve had conflicting thoughts on the physicality of certain formats. I won’t deny the convenience of the spaceless mp3 and streaming songs (although the latter takes away a sense of ownership and requires a decent internet connection). CDs, though a tangible format, are, as Long puts it, ‘a middle man’ between music and computer. Vinyl records are costly both in price and space, but their bright, beautiful artwork and unparalleled sound quality make for the most aesthetically pleasing format. Cassette tapes? I’m not convinced. While it was one of my treasured possessions, my Spice cassette swiftly got destroyed after several fervent listens. Cassette tapes occupy less space, retain a ‘cute’ factor, and allow for a certain degree of listener ownership, but their awkward size, sub-par sound and infuriating fragility leave much to be desired. Yes, they hold a special place in my heart, but they’re far from the best format to buy into in 2016. Isa
â€œAll my music is about home and placeâ€? Beatmaking with roots in the Altadenan mountains: pause profiles the man behind Contact Field Orchestra
Contact Field Orchestra Interview by Isa Jaward
‘Found sounds and tall tales’ is how producer Damon Aaron describes Contact Field Orchestra, his instrumental project of five years. Although known as an acclaimed singer and songwriter, Aaron carved himself a new path after unearthing field recordings of an orchestra of ex-miners dating from the late-1800s. Despite its roots in the LA beat scene, CFO isn’t something you’d typically hear at Low End Theory. While Aaron’s beats lack mainstream appeal and seldom sell in the US, it’s his delicate balancing act between modern electronic production techniques and centuries-old recordings that has garnered him a small but strong following in Germany, France, Portugal, Eastern Europe and here in the UK. “All my music is about home and place,” Damon Aaron muses, “so I’ve rarely felt comfort in other places than Altedena.” Yet Aaron has managed to shake his homebody tendencies and found sanctuary in Berlin, where he performed as part of a European tour as well as festivals such as Fusion, Komēta and Nation of Gondwana. On a sweltering summer afternoon, I caught up with Aaron via Skype to discuss the story behind CFO and the challenges he faces with a project indebted to the history of his hometown. You have a history as a singer-songwriter, but began putting out instrumental music in the last 5 years under the ‘Contact Field Orchestra’ alias. Why did you decide to change your focus? I hit a place where I’ve felt like it was time. Maybe 5 years ago I started recording this music and building a lot of instruments to be free to explore what I want. Much of it was about having freedom and a lack of fear to keep working on things that I’d always been working on but not sharing. Not trying to be clever or to think too hard; this project was one of the first times where I felt like the story and the music wasn’t some overly corny or serious art project. The music is serious, but there’s also a lot of humour. What’s your process when creating a CFO track? A lot of the process is spending time in the mountains field-recording, thus the name ‘Contact Field’; the ‘contact’ part is because it’s 99% recorded with these little contact mikes that I made. It’s challenging to EQ the sounds of these microphones, so you have this really strange tone that’s consistent in all the music. For every 10 tracks I make probably only 1 of them really sounds like a Contact Field song. A lot of these songs are bigger when they begin, and then I keep reducing till I have something that seems minimal in a way, but there are also a lot of psycho-acoustic things going on. Tell me more about your relationship with [record label] Hit and Run. People keep asking me about ‘the label’ and they’re very surprised to find out that Hit + Run is not quite a record label, we’re a live screen-printing company. We started this in [Brandy Flower’s] living room 10 years ago and now it’s a business, and the label part is sort of his capricious fun. That’s why the releases are so varied and strange because there’s no plan about what’s supposed to happen. We put out a lot of releases that are so varied and interesting; everything from 8-bit Punk to Boogie Funk to what I do.
Is there any crossover between the label’s artwork and the music? I do a lot of other art, and there’s definitely some correlation between this story-telling and the general art I’m doing. When I was first doing this, I gave [Californian artist] Cryptik an unfinished version of the first record and he just listened to it, painted to it all day for a couple of weeks and came to me saying, ‘yeah, this is great, what’re you doing with this?’. I think that there’s a reciprocal relationship with many of the other artists on Hit + Run. Because we have such a strong art and beat-making culture that’s very interrelated, even if we don’t make similar music or hang out a lot, people are still pretty supportive of each other.
CFO X H+R Mixtape No. 2 is available at contactfieldorchestra.bandcamp.com
What are the biggest obstacles in your CFO project? I don’t think there’s any obstacle; the only obstacle is me, and fear. But I don’t let those bother me anymore. I enjoy the whole project, the ability to collaborate with friends; I’m into the idea that the collaborations are more important, not just because I’m trying to hide from myself, but because I know what it’s like to have this face and image attached. I enjoy letting go of this stupid ego control and make it about more of a collective thing. I think when you let that go the art is better. I was as guilty as anybody; I spent years trying to be a successful songwriter and I failed enough and it was great. I’m old enough to say that. When I was 25 it would’ve been painful to hear people stealing my stuff, and now I hear people do it all the time and I love it. Part of it is that people need to make a living, and people like to be well-regarded. We all want to be validated, we all want to pay the rent, we all like to eat. I’d be lying if I said I don’t like to make money, I do, but what’s great we just put these records out. We had no expectations - yeah, it would be nice if someone liked it, but it wasn’t the reason. We just kept putting them out, and now enough of them have come out. Suddenly people have asked me to come play these shows. If anything, it’s confirmed what I thought could happen, which is that you make more real connections with people when you let go of all that. If you’re open, honest and without fear, that’s enough.
Wiley: The Godfather? I’m sure you’ve seen the headlines... Grime is back.
At this point, it’s pretty much undeniable - the enviable success of Stormzy and his baby blue tracksuit; the worldwide recognition Skepta has so long deserved; even a select number of artists finally starting to break that fabled market across the Atlantic that so long evaded the scene. With this current crop, grime’s success has ostensibly come while sticking to its roots, as artists, embracing the skittering beats and streetwise bars of the genre’s origins, bring the mainstream to the estates, not vice versa. Whether the heavy influence of the trap sound currently dominating America’s airwaves found on most of the modern grime output is really as recognisable as the beats from the [popular DVD series] Risky Roadz- or Practice Hours- era is debatable. The increasing budgets and the higher production value that goes with them will always lead to a loss of the DIY energy that originally characterised the genre. When that home-grown feel - one of the defining traits of the style – is gone, one is left to wonder whether it can still be called ‘grime’. That being said, this new wave of releases is a damn sight better than the last time the genre tried to move out from the underground into the light. The collective fanbase for the UK underground has tried hard to forget much of that period from 2008 to 2014, when the fierce originality and unapologetic abrasiveness of grime was replaced by utterly forgettable, shamelessly pandering shit. It’s easy to write off artists who bought into the craze as sellouts. Everyone wanted their shot at fame and fortune, wider recognition, girls and a paycheck, for there was no way that the public would ever accept grime as it was - or so it seemed at the time. No longer kids messing around on cracked copies of FruityLoops in their GCSE Music classes, it’s hard to hold a desire for legitimacy against them.
still many, including myself, do. Perhaps it’s unfair the way this particular foray has damaged Wiley’s legacy so much. He certainly wasn’t alone in this venture; BBK, who’s 2010 cut ‘Goin In’ is sooner forgotten, are stronger than ever, and even Chip(munk), arguably the biggest sell out the scene has yet produced, is having a resurgence, bolstered by irritating feuds with seemingly everyone. But Wiley, who’s vision and talent, both as a producer and an MC, created the blueprint for the UK’s most unique musical expression in decades, has not been a part of this victory lap. It isn’t purely hyperbolic to say that Wiley’s is the most important name in grime’s 10-year history. Or that it was his voice, his vision, steering grime through its initial development, pinpointing and refining that sound to the extent where it could be more than the experimentation of some East London teenagers. ‘Eskimo Riddim’; ‘Wot Do You Call It’; ‘Icerink Riddim’; Fucking ‘Morgue’ - this is the sound of grime at its most prototypical level. ‘Crash Bandicoot Freestyle’; ‘Snowman’; ‘Mystic Forest’… the list goes on. As heavy and uncompromising as they were revolutionary, his beats drew in flavours of 2-step, dub, and hip-hop to make something unique, banging, and utterly British in a way that brings me national pride like nothing else. In terms of catalogue, for me there is no contest for the best producer the scene has ever produced. But even stepping up to the mic, he remains one of the best the scene has ever produced. On the basis of his All Fun And Games/Step series of freestyles alone, Wiley’s place in the conversation is assured. He manages to balance the comedy and tragedy of all the best grime records better than almost anybody, a dichotomy that is sadly forgotten by too many MCs. Even internationally, he’s matched only by Danny Brown and Eminem in his early days, to say nothing of devastating flow and unmatched warring. How many artists of the scene could truly compete with him for Greatest Of All Time?
His newest album, Godfather, is scheduled for release on October 28th. A title such as this, not dissimilar to the recent release of another grime elder statesman, Giggs (Landlord), is a statement on how he views his own position in the scene, and as I have outlined, it is no empty boast. The title would suggest that Wiley intends this release to be his comeback statement, a reminder to the surging grime fanbase why his name is spoken with such reverence by everyone from Stormzy to Jammer. If Giggs, an influential yet ultimately coincidental figure, feels comfortable claiming himself the Landlord, then why shouldn’t a legend such as Wiley have his turn? Yet on 28th July, Wiley announced the cancellation of Godfather in a tweet saying: “there’s not much point”. Though he rapidly backtracked on the decision, the clear financial risks of cancelling an album already in post-production makes his willingness to make such a decision all the more interesting. For although it could be the petulant cry of a man disappointed, perhaps deservedly, by how little of this new spotlight is being given to him, perhaps it is that the source of grime’s purest expression looks upon the current scene and, not recognising the grime he founded, no longer sees a place for him. Upon the foundations of Wiley’s work is the current limelight enjoyed by Stormzy and company built. Through Wiley’s guidance and mentorship, Skepta is now able to be the figurehead and leader he is today. We are living in a year when both Skepta’s Konnichiwa and Kano’s Made In The Manor are both nominated for a Mercury Prize. Yet if, looking upon the scene which he created, the Godfather questions his place, perhaps it is truly unrecognisable. Olly
The old guard.
And another thing... Is Trap dead again? The emergence of Baauer and TNGHT kicked down the doors for the electronic trap revolution. Iâ€™m certainly not alone when I say it was these pioneers of the scene, reimagining and reinterpreting the grand tradition of southern hip-hop for a mainstream audience desperate for an alternative for the rapidly tiring brostep awakened a love for Roland 808 that will likely last until I die. This first wave of producers succeeded so overwhelmingly that they opened the door for less passionate, less creative, and less talented artists to follow in their footsteps. Leading us to today. The urgency, DIY feel, and incessantly creative approach to the form has been replaced by a frustrating monotony of screeching synths and underwhelming Mr. Carmack imitators by all but a select few producers, echoing the path of dubstep all too familiarly. What makes this fall from grace oh so tragic is that EDMâ€™s push to remove trap from itâ€™s Black origins was ostensibly for the benefit of middle-class white individuals like myself. Meanwhile the southern trap rappers and producers that had originally inspired it have made a creative resurgence that has taken over the whole of hip-hop. It is here that the current relevance of trap lies, as new wave masters like the ubiquitous Metro Boomin innovate with moody, oppressive beats that manage to be more fun and danceable than anything the likes of Flosstradamus or RL Grime can hope to create. Olly
“I’m a fucking rapper. You don’t have to keep saying female.” ...posted pause favourite NoName, no doubt in regard to a review of her latest mixtape Telefone. As a former user of the antiquated term ‘female rapper’, I felt it was time to speak out against the practice of categorising anyone with two X chromosomes as a ‘female’ anything, least of all tacking it onto their artistic label. I even think separate categories at award ceremonies is downright stupid, and that the only place where males and females may be unequally matched, hence unable to compete with one another, is in certain sporting endeavours. Competitions of mental capability – chess tournaments, spelling bees, heck, even the Great British Bake Off – see men and women pitted against each other, with varied results that are in no way related to gender. The ‘female rapper’ is an oft-maligned creature, relegated to the background in favour of her male contemporaries, the term itself propagated by hip-hop’s unwavering misogynistic values. Labelling an artist according to their sex (note: only women receive this treatment. Who ever heard of a ‘male rapper’?) is no doubt a way of maintaining the industry’s patriarchy. Although some of hip-hop’s greatest talents are women (shout out to my childhood hero Missy ‘Misdemeanour’ Elliot), the ‘female rapper’ is still a novelty act, and while male and female hip-hop artists may occasionally appear side-by-side in videos and on tracks, it will be a long time before women are given equal footing in the industry. Isa
Which type of beat is best? Even I, the indomitable trap head that I am, must admit that the lone boom bap cut on an otherwise 808-driven album – see ‘Neva Change’ on ScHoolboy Q’s fantastic Blank Face and ‘Let You Go’ from ASAP Ferg’s Always Strive And Prosper – is often the standout that very often becomes the only track from an overall impressive release that remains in my rotation when I’ve more or less forgotten the rest of it. This could be a matter of overexposure, for we are far past saturation point on the current iteration of Southern style beats, with even a number of hard-line boom bap artists embracing this sea change in the sonics of hip-hop. Surely in this environment, any such under-represented sound will naturally stand out from the tracks surrounding it? But perhaps there is something intangible in the sampled drum breaks of classic hiphop that comes together to build a harder-hitting beat than any amount of skittering hi-hats and booming kick drums can hope to match? Olly (again)
did we buy the hype? “All you boys in the New Toronto want to be me a little,” Drake claims on his hit ‘Summer Sixteen’. By the New Toronto, the rapper was, indirectly, referring to Tory Lanez, a 24-year-old fellow Canadian who released his The New Toronto mixtape last year. Drake threw the gauntlet down: if you are going to step out of my shadow then come forward. And so he did. “Why should people care about Tory Lanez?” asked the effervescent interviewer Nardwuar the Human Serviette. “Because my goals are set differently, I want to be the biggest artist in the world, I’m gonna be the biggest artist in the world, and I think what’s dope about me is that as you do care, you get to look and be a part of the journey.” The conviction and tone of Tory’s words are not lost Tory Lanez on his first full length feature album I Told You, 6.0 an album that functions as part autobiography, part musical statement, which for the most part delivers, as Lanez at once tries to stake his claim in the hip-hop stratosphere while seeking to step out of Drake’s shadow once and for all. Having released a glut of mixtapes stretching back to 2009, I Told You marks the Canadian’s first major label release. What is obvious from the start is that the tracklisting and the structure of I Told You is very considered; every song bar one is accompanied by a skit and both lead singles ‘Say It’ and ‘Luv’ appear at the end of the project, offering much needed respite from the dense storyline that plagues the bulk of the album. Hip-hop skits often fall flat when the artist at hand either uses them too needlessly or too seriously and I Told You ticks both boxes. De La Soul’s pioneering skits on their debut album 3 Feet High and Rising were a testament to their zany style, and their sheer inanity left for a pleasant, if not bizarre, experience. Tory Lanez’s skits come off as the complete opposite, at their worst stilted, generic, and cumbersome. While the artist’s redemptive story is by no means uninteresting - mother dying when he was 11, kicked out of his house, moving all over Canada and America during his childhood - it has been told before and better, especially by artists like 50 Cent. One of Tory’s artistic strengths that shines through on the project is his versatility; there are various examples of Tory flexing his musical nous, ranging from his croons on ‘High’ to his darker raps on ‘Dirty Money’. However, while the rapper is versatile, he is rarely original. Tracks such as ‘Question Is’ and ‘Lovers Blvd’, sound particularly Drake-inflected, while others like ‘Cold Hard Love’ resemble the poppier sound that The Weeknd has adopted in recent times. He is a very solid rapper and singer, but he has not yet quite found the musical niche that his musical contemporaries have.
Take Travis Scott, an artist whose intricate yet abrasive tracks have combined the direct angst of the trap sound with a refined musicality, his beat switch ups becoming something of a trademark. While Scott has propelled hiphop into a new sonic direction, Tory Lanez still @Koko finds himself somewhat rooted to the sound du jour, ‘Luv’ in particular feeding off the Drake-instigated musical trend towards dancehall. Nonetheless, it is an album that is lavished with passion, a project that finally sees him create at least a hint of daylight between himself and the rest of the Toronto music scene that so often finds itself orbiting Planet Drake. While it creaks under the weight of dialogue heavy skits and a lack of originality, the album marks a solid starting debut for the Canadian, buoyed by his effervescent confidence and clear artistic ambitions. James
“The EP’s coming in the spring”. The artist formerly known as NoName Gypsy assured me in a sweaty Philadelphian club in early 2015. Well, her timing was off, but a full 3 years after she first blew everyone away guesting on fellow Chicagoan Chance The Rapper’s seminal Acid Rap, NoName is back to show everyone how it’s done. Without a hint of first-release nerves, Fatimah ‘NoName’ Warner’s inaugural Telefone EP is a superb 10-track blast with no filler and a murderer’s row of amazing features - none of whom come close to overshadowing the woman of the hour. With only a small team behind the boards of Cam O’bi, Phoelix, and Saba, there’s a consistency to the project that ties it together in such a way that an occasional underwhelming beat can be forgiven. NoName’s playful and charming voice, sounding as self-assured as rappers twice her age, intricate rhyme schemes and earnest flow draw you in, but it’s her Noname heartfelt tales ringing of empowerment that keep you there. 9.0 With tinkling glockenspiels, shimmering keys, and shuffling jazzy
“We are the present, the past and still the future,” De La Soul assert on the outro of ‘Exodus’, a fitting final statement for the trio’s comeback album. Funded by a Kickstarter campaign, And the Anonymous Nobody surpassed its target in under 10 hours and ultimately garnered over $600,000 from fans, a hefty sum spent on glossy production and high-profile feature artists. This eclectic, uplifting and cleverly-curated record is held together by sensual jazz chords, laidback beats and oodles of acoustic samples that’ll please avid fans and new listeners alike. However, the album’s collaborative tracks tend De La Soul to shine a spotlight on everyone but the mem7.0 bers of De La Soul. Take ‘Drawn’, a most unusual track featuring Swedish group Little Dragon; the delicate pizzicato strings dancing alongside Yukimi Nagano’s warming alto sounds wholly like a Little Dragon track. The hip-hop elements, including De La Soul themselves, only appear in the final minute of the track. There are several other instances where this spotlight-sharing occurs: the half synth-rock, half boom-bap track ‘Snoopies’ featuring David Byrne; the Damon Albarn-dominated ‘Here In After’; the slow, sultry Usher collaboration ‘Greyhounds’. Divvying up equal airtime between the three rappers is difficult enough without relinquishing precious minutes to other artists. That said, Anonymous Nobody is no disappointment, and De La Soul ensure their voices are heard on tracks such as ‘Royalty Capes’ and ‘Nosed Up’. Brave enough to dabble in other genres while maintaining their legendary steez (that’s ‘style and ease’ for the unaware), the group have crafted a solid, engaging album ideal for end-of-summer listening. Isa
“Fuck it I’ll live forever now” - Noname drums, the immediate impression of the EP is that of sunny gardens and the halcyon days of youth, so at odds with the blood-soaked streets prevalent in much of the rap produced in her city. The tape’s intrinsic sound peaks on standout cut ‘Forever’ featuring a euphoric hook from Ravyn Lenae that has it on constant repeat in the pause camp. Comparisons to her childhood friend’s breakout project, Acid Rap, are inevitable, but lazy, with only a shared rejection of brooding pessimism to connect them. Chance’s tape was a grand statement of intent, a yelled announcement of his arrival that refused to be ignored. NoName’s debut, on the other hand, paints the picture of a rapper who does not crave the largest stage. Instead, Telefone is a joyful and understated message to the rest of the rap world to raise their damn game, and is undoubtedly one of the year’s best releases. Olly
Frank 8.5 After four years of elusive behaviour, false starts and social media teasers, Frank Ocean finally saw fit to drop not one but two albums this summer: Endless, a 45-minute visual album, and Blonde, both released over the space of two days via Apple Music. Though its title suggests otherwise, Endless’s 18 tracks only amount to 45 minutes of music. Over this duration, Ocean weaves a random assortment of slow grooves, trap 808s and upbeat, sunshine-flecked tracks into a complex tapestry that takes multiple listens to decipher. The album begins with a robotic voice singing commercial content - no doubt alluding to Ocean’s deal with the technology giant - then bathes the ears with the singer’s note-perfect falsetto on the highlyanticipated cover of the Isley Brothers’ ‘At Your Best (You Are Love)’. The accompanying black and white footage of multiple Frank Oceans building a spiral staircase is wonderfully artistic and minimal, but as the film progresses, it becomes increasingly difficult to discern each track separately. Keep an ear out for the acoustic guitar-riddled ballad ‘Wither’ or the James Blake-inspired, Troy NokA-produced instrumental ‘In Here Somewhere’, as well as a few segue, blink-andyou’ll-miss-it tracks, such as the hauntingly beautiful musing ‘Mine’. Though Endless both visually and conceptually different to Beyoncé’s Lemonade, the most prolific visual album in recent years, it’s worth comparing how each film relates to its relative album. Lemonade’s unfolding storyline, costume changes and cast of actors
Ocean 7.0 enhance Bey’s tale of infidelity and heartbreak, whereas Endless does little to contribute to or complement its musical content. While the ‘visual album’ format allows us to hear the album in its entirety, its warped sense of time and lack of an obvious narrative demands concentration and can sometimes distract from the music. Blonde was the project worth waiting for, not least for its stellar list of feature artists including Beyoncé, Kendrick Lamar and André 3000, who, while all being more prolific than Ocean, in no way overshadow. Bey swaps her diva vocals for soft wordless harmonies to accompany Ocean’s tale of lost love and drug abuse on highlight track ‘Pink + White’; Lamar occasionally interjects on ‘Skyline To’ to punctuate the end of Ocean’s lines. It’s only André 3000 who makes his presence felt during a minute-long verse of pure fire on ‘Solo (Reprise)’. Endless and Blonde are undoubtedly two of the most talked about albums of recent years, and have both delivered plenty of unexpected delights. While they may lack the subtlety and immediate beauty of Nostalgia Ultra and Channel Orange, Ocean’s latest records detail his reveries on growing up, heartbreak and sexual discovery as poetry excerpts as opposed to fully-fledged hits with instant appeal. Fans of Nostalgia Ultra and Channel Orange may be delighted or disappointed in the fruits of Ocean’s labour, but should nevertheless give Endless and Blonde plenty of time and attention to unearth their rich contents. Isa
pause playlist Frank Ocean - Pink + White Homeboy Sandman - Couple Bars Noname Ft. Ravyn Lenae & Joseph Chilliams - Forever Delakeyz - Snapositive Cyne - Steady Fat Joe Ft. Ashanti - What’s Luv Stan Forebee - Overcome Earl Sweatshirt x Knxwledge - Balance Anderson .Paak - The Season Tory Lanez - Cold Hard Love Quasimoto - Catchin’ A Vibe Travis Scott Ft. Kid Cudi - Through The Late Night Gucci Mane - No Sleep (Intro) Contact Field Orchestra - In The Dungeon Wiley - Step 2001
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