Hello, everyone! It has been a L O N G time… Too long. A lot of stuff has been happening in the world of music for the past couple months, but I’ve been MIA for most of it. Why is that? Well, I was going to write something long and drawn out, but I think that this will be short, and just contain updates.
WHERE WERE YOU?
Well… I was burnt-out! This year held some personal craziness for me. Job bouncing, holding two internships and one part time job at the same time, and looking for a fulltime job after both internships ended. When I wasn’t doing everything, I was happy to do nothing. I’m happy to say that I’ll be writing more regularly again, but…
It’ll Be Different
My new job is as a content writer, and I really enjoy it! That said, I’m writing ALL of the time. So when I’m not writing, I’m enjoying downtime. However, I am still a writer at heart, so a lot of my downtime is thinking about what to write about. I will be writing more regularly, but I will only be posting biweekly. As of now, I’m thinking every Wednesday and Thursday, but that is subject to change. I am so excited to be back! The first thing I’ll be posting about is the Kendrick-assisted Baby Keem track set to release Friday, August 27. Other than this, of course. It’s good to be back
Is it me, or has the music scene in 2021 been S L O W?? I mean, we came off of a year that was amazing for music! We had amazing pop hits and albums with After Hours, Future Nostalgia, and Folklore; we had some crazy R&B records with Chloe X Halle, Beyonce, and John Legend; and of course, we had rap. Man… Folks was RAPPIN last year! We had Freddie Gibbs releasing the best album of the year (fight me), we had Lil Baby release one of the most socially aware songs of the year, we had a new sex jam from Cardi B and Meghan the Stallion, and we had Griselda DOMINATE the entire year with their releases. This year? I mean… We had the Judas and the Black Messiah soundtrack!… However, things were shaken up May 7th, when… Well, let me put it this way: The real is back, the Ville is back, flow bananas… PEEL THIS BACK!
Yes, J. Cole came back with a song called, “Interlude” from his new album, The Off-Season. And it was good! Soulful production, lyricism that Cole’s known for, and name drops of Nipsey and Pimp C! We all were thinking, “How will the album sound? Will it be good? Will Cole save 2021??” Well, let’s discuss The Off-Season by J. Cole.
We start with “95 South”, which is a HELL of a way to open an album! Opening with some Cam’Ron, and Cole stuntin’ on rappers, saying that “I’m out here goin Triple platinum when I come around, y’all only doin 100K?? Please…” We then go straight to “Amiri”, which is… pretty much a rags-to-riches song. The production on here is very soulful, and the whole album has some dynamic but thematic production. Something a bit harder though… “Applying Pressure”. THIS TRACK RIGHT HERE! Cole starts talking about how he doesn’t respond to haters and starts calling out all the rappers that are out here cappin’ for clout, telling people that there’s nothing wrong with living check to check as he did before, and calls out broke people who clown millionaires! There is one issue with this song, though; and that would be the outro. The outro went on a bit longer than I would’ve preferred.
There were also two songs on here that we’ve already heard, in “Interlude” and “The Climb Back”. “Interlude” can be forgiven, because it was a single for the album, but “The Climb Back” seemed unnecessary. That said, “The Climb Back” is STILL fire! One of the most soulful songs on here is “My Life”, almost sounding like “a lot” part 2, having that production and 21 Savage on the song. Musically, it is so damn good! Cole flows on that beat perfectly, and 21… Don’t ger me started on 21, we’ll talk about him more in Features, but spoiler: he S N A P P E D! We are given plenty of memorable lyrics from Cole (“I’ll put an M right on your head, you Luigi brother now” will be said for a while), but that’s to be expected from Cole. For this section, I would give the Music a 3.5/5. The production did its thing, but it seemed as if we had 3 filler songs, in “100 Mil’”, “Amiri”, and “Punchin’ the Clock”.
This album feels like J. Cole’s flashback episode. Y’all know how at the end of a series, before it ends, we get the episode just showing the highlights of the series? This is what Cole’s album feels like, almost reflecting on his life. In “My Life”, he discusses how being poor in his youth made him envious and only made his grind harder. He also talks about how after his final album, The Fall-Off, he’ll be selling out Wrigley Stadium. We also get some confirmation on an incident that happened with P. Diddy on the song, “Let Go My Hand”. We also hear how he felt that he needed to act tough in his youth, even though he was fearful of getting punched in the face. This ties into the track before it, “Pride is the Devil”. Cole talks about how pride has made him do some foolish things, and he asks if that will be all he has left if his fame diminishes. A question that is answered on the final track, “Hunger on the Hillside”. He says that he will still be himself after it is all said and done. A huge theme of this album is reflection. At times, we can get the “rags-to-riches” types of stories, but those are contained to the filler tracks. Everything else? 5/5.
Y’all remember the meme of J. Cole going double-platinum with no features, right? Well, I’m happy Cole said, “Forget the memes, I’m bringing some friends!” The features on here are just… Lil Baby on “Pride is the Devil” is a damn near cheat code, as his melodic flow complements the beat super well, Bas and 6Lack on “Let Go My Hand” is beautiful, Morray on “My Life” was dope! And then there was 21… 21 Savage is easily one of the best trap rappers we have right now. Starting with songs like “No Heart” and “Bank Account” to giving us “a lot”, he has truly improved over time. I’m happy to say that his verse on My Life” shows that growth. 21 goes IN, talking about how he’s seen things that traumatized him, how he has a heart so he’ll send condolences to the mothers of the ops that were killed, a really weird line about how niggas are chicken breasts, how he prays that his past isn’t ahead of him, and my favorite line of the song (damn near favorite line of the album): Planted a seed, but it ain’t a sesame, can’t let you niggas and bitches grow next to me. DAMN!! 4.5/5 for the features!
You might’ve noticed that I mentioned filler tracks… While this is a very well-rounded project, there is definitely an issue with a couple songs feeling like they were just there as placeholders. “Amiri” has some great production, but it feels like the obligatory “rags-to-riches” song, “Punchin’ the Clock” was so short that I don’t have much to say about it, and “100 Mil” is just… Mid. Like, there’s a line about people cappin’ for clout, and a confusing line about how Michael B. Jordan would take a dude’s girl, but the layout of it is a bit muddled. Also, I felt like having “The Climb Back” on here was a little unnecessary since we got it last year on Lewis Street. Maybe it wouldn’t have caught my attention as much had the album come out sooner, but this is just a minor nitpick.
This album is so dope! It has its low points, with some filler tracks and some confusing bars, but it still tapped into one of J. Cole’s biggest rapping strengths: empathy. When you hear J. Cole rap on here, you really feel what he is going through! When you hear “Close”, where he feels like he is just on the cusp of his dreams but not there yet, you feel his passion and can put yourself in his shoes. When you hear “My Life”, you feel his envy when he’s talking about his friends selling dope when he was younger and getting the money he desired; and on “Let Go My Hand”, you can reminisce on that time him and Diddy scrapped, because we were following hip-hop back in the 2010s! Cole gave us his flashback episode, and I think that I speak for all of us when I say, “We were happy reminiscing with you, and we’re anxiously waiting for the finale.”
Photo Creds: J. Cole
I don’t think that I’m alone in the fact that a broken elevator is TERRIFYING. Like, seriously, have any of you ever been on a shaky ass elevator?? You feel like it’s about to be ALL over. This is with elevators that have been made relatively recently! Did you know that elevators had to be manned by the passengers at first? Yep, you would have to open the door, close the door, and make sure the door to the elevator shaft was closed as well. If that didn’t happen, other passengers… let’s just say that they would be going for a pretty long fall. This isn’t the safest way to go up and down buildings, so there was a man who decided to make automatic doors. A Black man, by the name of Alexander Miles.
To keep it real, there is not a lot on the youth of Alexander Miles. He was born in 1838, and there has been some disputes on where he was born. Some say Ohio, while others say Duluth, Minnesota; where he was living while coming up with the invention. His parents were named Michael Miles and Mary Pompy.
In the 1860s, Miles moved to Wisconsin and worked as a barber where he started experimenting with creating hair products. After moving back to Minnesota in 1870, he met his wife, a white woman by the name of Candace J. Dunlap. They had a daughter named Grace in 1879, and relocated back to Duluth.
Miles and his wife found work, as Miles ran a barbershop and Candace became a dressmaker. Miles’ barbershop was in the four-story St. Louis Hotel, and he purchased a real estate office. Let’s acknowledge this: it is around 1880, and this man purchased a real estate office. That is excellent. Even though it was in the north, I will ALWAYS praise Black people achieving big things like that in the 19th century. As time passed, Miles made more achievements. He became the first Black member of Duluth’s Chamber of Commerce, and he even built a three-story brownstone building that is known as Miles Block. With a three-story building, you know what you might want? Elevators.
The Big Invention.
Remember when I told you that closing the door to the elevator shaft was important? Well, Miles felt the exact same way, as he was on one with his daughter and that shaft door was open. Almost immediately after, Miles started drafting up blueprints for automatic elevator doors.
Now, someone else had the patent for elevators first (John W. Meaker), but Miles still applied for a patent. Miles’ elevator was going to have those automatic doors by attaching a flexible belt to the cage of the elevator. Once it came in contact with the drums that were above and below the floors, the elevator shaft doors were able to operate at appropriate times. Through some levers and rollers, the elevator doors would open and close on their own. Miles’ model is still used in modern designs of elevators, and all most of us have ever known are automatic doors in and on elevators.
Final Days and Impact.
Miles and his family moved to Chicago around 1900, where he created an insurance agency. The agency’s goal was to eliminate the discriminatory treatment of blacks. “Insurance companies persist in holding out discriminative rates to these colored people..” stated by Miles. Near the end of his life, Miles was believed to be the “wealthiest colored man in the Northwest.” After 1905, Miles died, but his legacy was still recognized as he was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 2007.
Alexander Miles is an innovator that you don’t hear about too often. For a man who changed something that we use so frequently, I wouldn’t be surprised if this is the first time you’ve heard of him! Hopefully, I can do him justice by showing you how he changed the elevator so we wouldn’t have to stress (or die) closing the doors manually. Alexander Miles, your legacy will not be forgotten!
Photo creds: Duluth Public Library
BHA. (2021). Alexander Miles: African American Inventors. Retrieved from My Black History: http://www.myblackhistory.net/Alexander_Miles.htm
National Inventors Hall of Fame. (2021). NIHF Inductee Alexander Miles. Retrieved from National Inventors Hall of Fame: https://www.invent.org/inductees/alexander-miles
Scholastic Teacher’s Activity Guide. (2021). Alexander Miles | Famous African American Inventors. Retrieved from Scholastic Teacher’s Activity Guide: http://teacher.scholastic.com/activities/bhistory/inventors/miles.htm
White, D. (2018, January 4). Alexander Miles (1838-1918). Retrieved from Black Past: https://www.blackpast.org/african-american-history/miles-alexander-1838-1918/
So… This is different than what you might expect from me… Backstory: I was updating playlists and got to my hype songs. I thought, “Hmm… I listened to a lot of trap music according to these hype playlists, but I’ve never thought about reviewing them.” There is a reason for that. See, trap music is a little… hard to review. Let me explain.
In the Trap House: Backstory
Rap is encompassing of so many different styles, and plenty of subgenres. We have cloud rap or chill-hop, we have conscious hip-hop, and we have what we are discussing today, trap music. Trap music is the aggressive cousin to rap, where it is all about flexing, selling dope (or trappin’, hence the genre’s name), and potentially killing people; all over some great production. The most important part about trap music is production, so regular lyric breakdowns fall to the wayside. And… I think that’s perfectly fine! Here’s the thing: there is a time and place for everything. I’m not going to Crank Dat Soulja Boy when I’m studying, but I’m also not about to listen to “u” from Kendrick off of my favorite album when I want to turn up. That is an Unpopular Opinion that needs to be written, but with all that said, let’s talk about how I will be reviewing this project.
So… How You Reviewin’ This?
Like I said, lyrics don’t matter as much in this. I reviewed this album differently. For some insight, I typically will throw an album on once to get a first impression of it. I might be in the car, I might be chillin at the crib, but I’ll let myself hear the sounds, and hear how it comes off initially. Then, I get into my actual listening stage, where I break down the lyrics of each track and write notes on them. With DS2, that wasn’t needed. Lyrics aren’t as important as the beat, so I did this: I listened to it with my headphones/in my car, and then I listened to it on my speaker, for that atmospheric “house party” effect. Now that the preamble is out of the way, let’s discuss the man himself: Future.
Of all the people in trap music, Future is a legendary artist. Seriously, look at his catalogue, and you’ll be astonished at how many hits the man has! He also has some of the most toxic lyrics of all time (“If she catch me cheatin’, I will never tell her sorry” is definitely a gem). Regardless, DS2 (standing for Dirty Sprite 2) has been considered the magnum opus of Future. Let’s talk about it!
Let’s address the elephant in the room: lyrically, this album is subpar at best… from a pure lyricism perspective. However, we’re looking at something separate from lyricism. With a trap album, we’re looking at production and catchiness. Starting with “Thought It Was A Drought”, the production has this ominous feeling, which would fit for a pregame song. However, what sticks out is some of the lyrics, which is where the catchiness comes in. “I just f*cked your b*tch in some Gucci flip-flops” is quotable as hell, and you’ve probably heard that phrase before, which shows its staying power.
The production is pretty consistent, but it also is sporadic enough to keep you surprised. The majority of the project has very dark production; there’s synths, piano keys, and BASS. The first thing that I made sure to check out on the project was the bass of it, because if I were at a party (pre-Rona, of course; stay home, y’all!) I’d want to hear some BOOMIN’ bass. This is where the album truly shines, and my favorite produced song would probably have to be “Colossal”. That piano is a lil too smooth for me not to love it! “Where Ya At” is so much fun, starting the Drake/Future pair that gave us WATTBA, we have“Stick Talk” that gives us another quotable line, as well as more toxicity, “F*ck Up Some Commas” has a beat that makes you want to make some money, and then you have my favorite song, “Freak Hoe”. Y’all… This song right here has the production, the quotable lyrics, and the party atmosphere. What’s not to love??
Now, this is a section I didn’t think I would need to make… but we have one song where it applies. That song would be “Kno the Meaning”, where Future discusses all his influences, as well as how one of his boys got locked up, WITH his flash drive that contained all his music. I didn’t think I’d want to hear something like this from Future, but it actually works better than you might think! It isn’t something that you necessarily want to hear from Future (he’s the trap guy, we want to get TURNT), but he pulls it off pretty well! I can’t say the same for “Rich $ex”. This is one of those songs that is supposed to show how romantic our friend is, even after talking about his “freak hoes”, and how he’s “f*ckin his groupies”… From that fact, it doesn’t work, but it just comes off as disingenuous and doesn’t make sense… Like, what in the hell is rich sex? Is there middle-class sex? Is there poor sex, from a monetary standpoint? Do you owe taxes for the rich sex? I’m going down a rabbit hole that’s only leading me to think this is about prostitution, and it isn’t at all.
Overall and Rating
At the end of the day, this is a trap CLASSIC. We have all heard “F*ck Up Some Commas”. We’ve all asked “Where Ya Ass Was At?”, we’ve all gotten lit to “Stick Talk”. This album is not the strongest lyrically, but it never was supposed to be! It is all about the production, and the quotable lyrics you can take away from them. Production is a 5/5, every song has excellent production, and as far as quotable lyrics? “I’m bout to f*ck this cash up on a new toy!” “I just f*cked your b*tch in some Gucci flip-flops”, “Bounce that ass, make your knees touch your elbows”, and “Hundred thousand to a hundred thousand!” This was just off the top of my head! Overall, save two songs, this is a perfect trap project
Favorite Songs: Freak Hoes, Thought It Was A Drought, Where Ya At
Photo Creds: Epic Records
Unpopular Opinion: 2020 Was A Great Year
YOU HEARD THAT RIGHT!!! As the year wraps up, people are celebrating the fact that it is finally over instead of celebrating the new year, which is a big difference. Now, I’m not totally oblivious. Of course, this year started with the threat of WWIII and Kobe’s death, we had another year of nothing changing as Black people got killed and no one got punished (wanton endangerment? Should have been first-degree murder!), and, of course, the Rona.
These are all terrible, and I understand where people are coming from when they call this the worst year ever. That being said, humans have an issue acknowledging the good of something until it’s long passed. I’m here to change that, and to make the case that: 2020 was a fantastic year.
Health is Taken Seriously
We had a PANDEMIC this year. And for the first time in my personal lifetime, health has been taken very seriously. Just last year, it was “work until you drop! You ain’t that sick!” Now, it is “Why you coughin? Stay home for 3 months!!!” Beforehand, out health wasn’t a priority over work, but now? I dare you to come into work and say you have symptoms of the Rona. You goin’ STRAIGHT home! We are finally in an age where we don’t have to go into work even though we are coughing up a lung. (Note: this is not every company, unfortunately)
Working From Home Is Possible!
When places first started opening up again after the shutdown, many companies opted for a work-from-home option due to fear of the pandemic and losing money. Needless to say, we have seen how possible working from home is! We have been ingrained to believe that working from home is impossible, because people think it can stump productivity. However, we have seen that it is unbelievably possible to do this. In a pandemic where we are all afraid of getting sick, this is something that gives us our peace and our money.
This year has been like a funeral. It has been unbelievably sad, as we gathered to see the deaths unfold, but it has brought us back to one of the most important things about life: family. Plenty of people have been reconnecting with their family in this time, because we’ve all realized how important it is to give people flowers while they can still smell them (no pun intended because that’s a symptom of the Rona). I think that this is one of the most powerful things about this year. Sometimes, you need to remember what is important, and one of those things is family. Another one of those things is…
Think about how it was before the pandemic. You probably had a job that you had to work at, a social life you needed to keep up with, additional hobbies that you wanted, exercise routine, and all of this was possibly in a day! We, especially Americans, are all about the “hustle” culture. While nothing is wrong with hustling, but we leaned too far into it. “Sleep when you’re dead!” “The early bird gets the worm!” “#teamnosleep”. All of these phrases have been drilled into our heads by social media, because people are convinced that being exhausted is one of the prices to pay on the road to success. Well, this year said, “Take a nap”. We truly needed to slow down and take a break from that type of “hustle” lifestyle and start living a human lifestyle.
Hobbies on Hobbies!
Around the time of the shutdown, I learned that I really love to build things. Because of Rona, I have a new hobby that I really enjoy and I know others do, too. People have been gardening more, people have been cooking more, people have been writing more! This year, people have learned so much more about themselves, what they enjoy doing and how they enjoy doing things. The great part about this is that it felt like people were so connected, even though they were separate. Which brings me to my final point…
This year we had one of the biggest civil rights movements of all time. The list of Black men and women is unending. I don’twant to keep talking about it as I’ve written about it plenty of times, so I’ll direct you to these two pieces: whywekneel and blackparanoia. I want to talk about the protests! I attended a protest (mask on, of course, because Rona) and what I noticed was that there was so much unity there. White, Black, Asian, and every ethnicity and race coming together to say, “Your life matters.” I was in tears because of how powerful that unity was that day. Though there is definitely some division when it comes to the BLM Movement, there are so many of us that are closer than ever before. From us watching Tiger King at the beginning of the quarantine to watching the #AloneTogether concert. From us standing in solidarity for people that look like me to us all sharing in the discomfort of being in this Rona time, this year has been fantastic, because it has honestly unified us more than ever.
Why write this when this year has already been declared a shitshow? Why, when so many bad things have happened? Why be so insensitive? Well, as I said in the beginning, I am not oblivious to all the bad that has happened this year. A lot of shit has gone down this year. However, I will always choose to acknowledge the positives because people said 2016 was the worst year ever, and then 2020 hit, and made 2016 look like the greatest year of all time. Hopefully, that teaches us to be more positive before 2024 recreates the flood in the Bible. I choose to look on the bright side because that is so difficult at times, but it is the most rewarding feeling. In a year with some bad things happening, someone needs to look on the bright side of things, and I am ok with being that person.
This year will have a special place in my heart personally though. This year has been big for me in general, and one of the biggest things to happen was this: Musiq Therapy Magazine. Almost 2 years ago, this was only a dream, and in April of this year, it became a reality. I want to thank all of you who are reading this, and truly feeding my passion. I’m so blessed, and I hope 2021 is filled with blessings for all of you. Be safe, and have a socially distanced Happy New Year!!