Sometimes I’ll find my dog laying in the dark all by himself on one end of my family’s apartment while most everyone else is on the other end. I don’t even notice him unless he shifts his body and the two medallions that state his name, where he’s from, and who his owners are clang together on his neck as he turns over onto his back or rises from that position. Then I spot him, totally inconspicuous, laying on the carpet next to his big pillow of a bed.
He’s almost always sleeping, though how I know that I can’t really tell you. Sometimes when he’s sitting up straight he’ll start to doze off, his eyelids will start to blink before they slooooowly close, then shoot up, then slooooowly close again like automatic shades at a nice hotel. He snoozes during most of the day, little Oscar, and usually it seems like a very good life. He goes out two or three times a day, he sniffs other dogs, he roams the city streets, and then he comes back to absolutely no responsibility, except when we pick him up and tussle him for our enjoyment or medicate him for his ridiculous neurosis. Other than that, he lives luxuriously. Time lays infinite before him and it’s confines hold no meaning, because apparently dogs can’t remember anything from more than a few minutes ago. That’s why they act like you’ve come home from the war every time you walk in the door .
Sometimes, though, I wonder if he’s sad. When I find him laying in the dark as the rain pelts the window, like tonight, I can’t help but see myself in him. I like to be alone, perhaps as a product of my being raised an only child, perhaps as a product of my uncontrollable love for music (ever notice it’s hard to listen to music with other people around in any other setting besides a concert? Clubs are actually good for that but apparently people don’t go just to listen to the music….?) Maybe some yet-to-be explained trait of mine that feels repellent to most human beings drives me into solitude, where I don’t have the burden of interaction or communication with anyone but my own thoughts (and even those can be stressful). Is it sad? I don’t know. Probably. I saw a video once where an author, I forget who at the moment, said that she loved to be alone and she actually enjoyed feeling sad or depressed, but only when that sadness or depression was self-afflicted. If anyone else made her feel that way, it would be a different story, but if it welled from inside of herself, she could deal with it. That’s almost exactly how I feel sometimes, like I can see the world for what it truly is and I don’t like what I see, so I retreat into a cocoon, a zone of safety where music and the internet serve my whim. The world is still the world, but I’m in my isolated cave painting my vision of what I’d like it to be. I’m quite fine with it. I wonder if Oscar feels the same way in the dark.
Everybody’s waiting for Rich Homie Quan’s next huge single. When the opening chords of “Type of Way” play and Quan slinks into that choppy sermon of a hook, euphoria takes over. Now fans wait with baited breath for his next big move, the one that will take him farther than Atlanta and the Internet. Whether his new mixtape I Promise I Will Never Stop Going In delivers on those expectations is unclear so far. What we do know is that Quan continues to demonstrate his worth as a contemporary rap mainstay and not a one hit wonder on the new project.
An old, wrinkly person once said, “Comparisons are odious”, and it’s true: art should be evaluated on it’s own terms, though it never exists in a vacuum. When Rich Homie skips over questions about his shots at Future in interviews, it feels like he might have opened up a can of worms that he didn’t actually want to contend with. Quan owned the summer while Future pumped out two singles that failed to hit on the same blockbuster level as previous songs like “Turn On The Lights” and “Tony Montana”, but Future continues to prove his worth elsewhere on songs like “Tapout”, “Love Me”, and “Karate Chop” (which should have been the single sans Lil’ Wayne if Epic knew what was up). Quan has spread love in a similar fashion by making himself the center of songs like YG’s “My Nigga” and Gucci Mane’s “I Heard”, but the unnecessary beef that simmers just below the surface will drag both artists down before it catapults one over the other.
It’s hard to tolerate an amorphous group of young rappers that are overly nostalgic for the 90’s, but it’s easier to make room for a plentitude of weird, experimental rappers because they’re pushing the boundaries instead of regressing. Quan and Future can adjust to each other’s presence because fans don’t give a shit about beef if the music is spectacular. “I Fuck Wit You Girl” is an acoustic guitar-driven song that finds Quan listing the reasons why he’s down with a certain female, and it shows hints of a wider appeal – this, like many other songs on the front half of the tape, would fit snuggly on the radio. On the opening “They Don’t Know”, a coolheaded but still lonely Quan reflects on his success – “They ain’t know I was worth that much ‘til I dropped that mixtape and showed they ass / And they ain’t know I was on that Percocet but they know I be on them Zans”. There’s a lot boiling under Rich Homie’s scaly exterior, but it seems like he hasn’t quite shown us his full deck of cards yet. Hopefully he’s saving that for a more focused project.
While his subject matter is still somewhat reserved, the ways he plays with cadences and timbre remain limber. “WWYD” sounds like Rich Homie is skipping through Willy Wonka’s factory towards the beginning; “Blah, Blah, Blah” tiptoes between meme mimicking and indulgent silliness, but the less you think about it, the more you’ll like it; “Reloaded” feels like a cheap piggyback of Toto’s flawless “Africa”, but the next song “Make That Money” makes up for it with catchy repetition. This is Rich Homie’s strength – unique, spirited songwriting. Though his topics might tend towards the duller side, the way he presents them is totally individual, and that kind of personality is what keeps people coming back for more.
The radioactive heat on this mixtape will turn a couple heads, too. Young Thug’s delicious disrespect on “Get TF Out My Face” is the pepperoni to Quan’s pizza (tellingly, he leaves the deepest impression), the cross-coast Miilkbone flip on “Man of the Year” should soundtrack every room you walk into, and the aforementioned “They Don’t Know” is a strong leadoff, but nothing pops like you want it to. Something’s telling us that he’s holding back.
A good portion of the tape’s strength borrows from the production’s muscle. Though Yung Carter (who did “Type of Way”) is conspicuously absent, K.E. on the Track helms the outro and DJ Spinz and Metro Boomin’ collaborate for what sounds like a medieval banger fit for an MMG radio smash, but Quan doesn’t fully quite capture it. FKi, the quickly rising duo that’s showing up in all the right places this year, kills “Get TF Out My Face” while IzzeTheProducer chefs up two emphatic beats for “Blah, Blah, Blah” and “I Fuck Wit You Girl”. Dupri and Problem are behind the boards for the slow-burning “Walk Thru”, and the swilling production on “1000” is courtesy of Tramatone. One thing you can’t fault Rich Homie Quan for is his beat selection.
One glaring problem with the mixtape is an issue that lots of artists share today: length. Traditionally, 17 tracks isn’t an unbearable amount of songs on any given project, especially a free one. But why don’t more rappers condense their efforts into an album? Imagine if Quan took the three best tracks from this tape, concentrated them towards a debut album and gave people one, cohesive product to marvel over without any filler? It’s hard to say whether it’s the label’s fault (though Quan insists that he isn’t signed to a major, it wouldn’t be surprising to see a Def Jam announcement in the near future), but the strategy of over-saturation has to hit a breaking point, and when it does, we’ll start getting a much higher rate of satisfaction with rap songs. Just look at the trend of short EPs in R&B and indie music this year that have met widespread acclaim. Instead of throwing everything at the wall and seeing what sticks, he might benefit from the kind of studio session that produced “Type of Way”, which was a last minute addition to Still Goin’ In.
I Promise I Will Never Stop Going In is a thorough listen from front to back, but nothing washes over you like “Type of Way” or rings in your ear like “My Nigga”. Quan no longer has to prove that he’s more than a fluke – we know he has the ability to pen incredible music. Now he faces the task of refining the process and focusing on an album that will bring him to a larger audience. Maybe this mixtape is a necessary step in that development, but he’s conquered the mixtape circuit. Beyond a homerun, Quan now has to prove that he can keep his batting average over .400.
There are no bells or whistles to Jordan Bratton’s music. He’s one of the purest upcoming R&B acts of the year, relying strictly on his own vocal chops and his ability to pen a heartfelt, pop-oriented song. “Midnight Rage” might sound like something that could have made Channel Orange, but he’s stood out on his own with songs like “Black Fever”, where his style is so direct that you can’t help but sit still for the whole song. He hasn’t manufactured any buzz, he hasn’t been cosigned by any big names. He’s just singing his heart out on songs like “The Grey” and his newest track, “Danger 3”, while he’s written and produced all of his own music. If you’re looking for a no frills R&B artist whose art stands on it’s own, then Jordan Bratton is what you’ve been looking for. Get up on him before the rest of the industry gobbles him up.
Music writer internet is experiencing another kerfluffle because someone said you should write for free. A similar scene is caused when news surfaces of interns from 7 years ago banding together and bringing class action lawsuits against the record companies that they (willingly) interned for with no pay.
To me, the truth about writing for free is similar to that about interning. Raw work experience is the most important part - getting thrown head first into hands-on, real life scenarios are where you learn best. The best way to get better at writing is to write. If you’re good enough to be recognized (and it’s not always about being “good enough”, for better or worse; i got my start in writing when i caught a certain publication tweeting about a summer internship and it was on from there), editing becomes another integral part of improving your writing, and you end up editing yourself more because it feels so fucking great. A lot of people will say you should work for free because of the intangibles - networking (vomit), bonus stuff (bullshit events, goody bags, and chances to suck a C-level rapper’s dick, metaphorically and literally), free concerts, getting your foot in the door. All of that amounts to exactly zero if your work doesn’t speak for itself. I’m not sure if that applies to other fields, but I can say it sure as hell applies to writing. I haven’t burned any bridges yet, but I’ll don a shit-eating grin and say that I look forward to it, because I know my own worth and when I’m pushed to lose my cool, I’ll know it will be because I couldn’t bite my tongue about some bullshit anymore.
Knowing your own worth is the key phrase. If you intern with no pay for long enough and you do the right level of work, then at a certain point you should feel a responsibility to yourself to demand compensation for your efforts. Your superiors will make you work for free for as long as they can - obviously that’s an advantage they take until they’re forced to consider other options. That’s when you speak up and say, “I think I deserve to be paid for the work I’ve done.” If they don’t agree, you haven’t lost anything and they can eat a dick. If they do agree, then it goes without saying that only open mouths get fed. Ask to get paid and you’ll be surprised how much your superiors will respect your request. After all, they probably started in a similar capacity when they first got going, and they would have asked the same questions going in.
I interned for a record label over the summer for about a month. In fact, they introduced me around the office as their “illegal intern” (really endearing way of bringing me in, right?). The workload wasn’t up to par, my interest wasn’t up to par either, and the possibility of getting paid was about as slim as making record label people care about the actual music, so I left. It didn’t feel like somewhere that I could 1) make a difference, or 2) care enough to try, so I made a clean break for something I’m more passionate about: writing.
I contribute to exactly one website for free, and that website happens to have (probably not by chance) some of the worst writing, IMHO, amongst major rap websites. I started writing for them by pitching them an entire pre-written review. They liked it, but the editor claimed that the website “does not have an online budget”. Hard to believe when you run a whole fucking ad-supported website with contributors, but okay…? I mulled over it for a night and finally decided that it was a wise decision on my part to take the gig. Practice is practice, and some exposure on a larger platform, I thought, was better than writing on this Tumblr that nobody reads (if you do, God bless, seriously), so why not? As a matter of fact, ever since that first review, that same editor has reached out to me for multiple reviews, all for free.99. I do it for the practice and to tweet out my work for others to read and contemplate, but boy do i fucking hate it every time. I’ve pulled all-nighters writing reviews for no pay, because I’ve realized to never match the quality of work to the pay. Do your best work and just figure out the rest later.
If a publication is reaching out to me in the hopes of giving me a written assignment without pay, that’s a red flag. Clearly the action of reaching out to me merits my own writing in the editor’s eyes, but not enough to pay me for it? I might as well turn around and pitch the assignment to a website that will pay me and give me the same amount of exposure. People who disagree will say, “But if you don’t write it, someone else will.” That’s probably true. But that someone wasn’t the editors first choice, and there’s a reason for that. So why the paradox? You’re a hugely popular rap magazine, yet out of all the people on your staff and elsewhere, you’ve chosen me to write something free of charge? I am trulyhumbled.
This writing for free thing is a farce, people. If you want to write for free, that’s what blogs and Tumblr are for, not ad-supported, revenue-creating websites and media platforms. Build your social media presence, show that you have some unique, thoughtful, and persuasive ideas, and people will notice, slowly but surely. Then prove that you can extend those tidbits into well-structured, coherent writing, and trust me, people will pay you for it (not much). But if you continue to eat the scraps out of the garbage, then that’s exactly where the trend of music criticism will go. If you value someone’s work, you should show them just how much you really value it. Or go fuck yourself.
Another year, another Thanksgiving. Year in, year out, me and my parents drive to Randolph, Boston, an incredibly boring town where my mom’s brother resides with his wench of a wife. Their daughter, Sharon, died of cancer in early 2012, and things have never really been the same in the family since. Her husband still can’t fathom dating, while his two kids, a boy and a girl, are like angels that heaven traded for Sharon.
To be quite honest, as much as I cried at her funeral without being able to stop, I don’t feel much for the rest of extended family. Aunts, uncles, cousins (first, second, third, whatever) - I don’t know, something doesn’t connect with me. Outside of immediate family (I’m an only child), it all seems like a forced construct. I have friends that I consider to be more like family than the people I call “blood”. That sounds fucked up but what do I have in common with these people besides lineage? The old people always ask the same questions, as sweet as they are. The middle-aged people reside in their separate spheres, also usually repeating the same questions that they’ve asked me for years to the point that they’re robotic, though I’m probably not giving them enough credit.
Family will always be there for you, true (or at least one would hope). But why? Is it because we’ve forged a meaningful relationship? Maybe we did when I was young and running around like a chicken with it’s head cut off. Then I was cute and curious and personable and sociable and talkative with extended family. Now I make sure to stay with the youngest kids during my entire Thanksgiving day, and when the kids leave I just stay in the basement of the same house we’ve been having today’s meal at for god knows how long. Tonight they were talking about B-52’s and sailboats and football team records. A minority of that sounds cool, but the more I feel like family is FORCED upon me, the less I want to talk to these people about anything.
Part of my vain struggle with the meaning of extended family probably comes from the fact that I’m adopted. When I was less than 24 hours old, my parents flew down to Texas where I shot my way out my mom dukes, who was on her own when my birth dad dipped for unknown reasons. She couldn’t sustain raising a kid at whatever age she was, and my parents had been desperately searching for a kid after they found out that they wouldn’t be able to procreate naturally, so boom pow. My mans Beezy reminded me of something I actually lose sight of every now and then, despite how often my dad retells the story of that day: they actually chose me. That’s crazy.
My parents never hid the fact that I was adopted. Thinking back as far as I can, I always knew I was adopted, and my mom and dad were always willing to talk about it with me. When i was about 13 years old, we even went down to Florida to meet the woman that linked me and them together, though I’ve never met either of my birth parents.
My feelings about adoption have remained generally resolved, although I have the feeling that searching for my birth mother is an inevitable process, if not actually meeting her. I took a class in college freshmen year about how DNA plays a larger part in our behavior the older we get. When we’re younger, our brains are more pliable, and thus we can absorb new languages and such with much more ease than when we’re older. As age increases, as does the effect of our genes. I’ve always hated the fact that certain parts of our personality are somehow predetermined by factors that we can’t control. Ever since I (perhaps unwisely) read Ayn Rand’s duo of ego-inflating novels, I’ve thought that anything I put my mind to, I can accomplish, including forming my own personality. Science proves that might not be the case.
My adoption, like my life experiences on their own, have taught me that most of what we call “family” is a societal construct. Outside of mother and father and siblings, those outside of the core are sort of just…there. Beezy reminded me that if some real shit went down in my life, family would be there through thick and blood, and once again, I hope that’d be true. But family usually sucks because you’re actually stuck with them. This idea of permanence is a lie. The only constant in life is change, and as an adopted child I have even less of an obligation to these people.
This might sound like some über-millenial shit (I’m starting to really hate that word, as I do with all generalizations), and I’m not even sure why I vomited all this at 2:14 AM in the lobby of a Courtyard Marriott with my second glass of Pinot Noir in hand. Mainly because I hated Thanksgiving more than ever this year. Yet that hate, which has seethed in my veins for different reasons throughout my life, is always counterbalanced by the angelic kids that I mentioned at the beginning. They’re so purely innocent I could cry just thinking about hugging them earlier today. They don’t see ulterior motives. They can’t even tell the put on, childish voices that we speak to them with. Our tones excite them, and they just feed off of their own energy.
Maybe the most important part of my writing about this is to realize that I should cultivate real relationships with these kids beyond the fleeting Thanksgiving weekend visits, occasional trips back to Boston, and phone calls to check in on how I am / they are doing. I never want to relinquish my child-like qualities, and that’s why I’m in such a natural state when I play Legos and make silly nosies with them, and laugh and tickle them and eat chocolate and generally don’t give a fuck about anything except having fun with them. I should forge the same friendships with them that my cousin Sharon did with me. Then when they come to Thanksgiving and I’m an old fuck, they’ll still want to chill with me. Hopefully.
P.S. When I was downstairs in this Marriott lobby earlier tonight, my Dad called me from our room and told me he was just happy that we got to spend Thanksgiving together as a family, me and him and mom. It’s horrible, but I think about death a lot, especially that of my parents, and to hear that and think that one day we won’t be able to spend the day together really distills everything. I tend to believe that I think about death a lot because it helps me to cherish life today, but who knows why we think about what we do.
"I used to make certain albums hoping they’d come out in winter - like 36 Chambers orLiquid Swords. The only album I wanted to come out in summer was Cuban Linx. It’s like directing, and I directed those first ones to have a wintertime vibe. It’s more inside-your-car, more intimate with the music. Whereas in the summer, it’s more out in the world with it. So with Cuban Linx it’s more of an out-in-the-world type of album. Liquid Swords, 36 Chambers - those are wintertime, up-in-your-face joints. You really feel it. Songs like “Cold World” with the wind blowing, I want people to be in their cars just…shivering.”
- RZA on recording albums for seasons from “The Wu-Tang Manual”
"Real and True" wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for Lil’ Wayne. First "Lollipop" pissed everyone off before they admitted to loving it, then he started doing weird rock shit on "Rebirth", and finally his eccentric pop follies plateaud with "How To Love", which sounded like Weezy meets T Swizzy. Blech.
But Wayne deserves credit, if not for being fearless, than at least for paving the way for weirdo, genre-ignoring acts like Future to flourish and expand. “Turn On The Lights” is the most #honest hit song (both in it’s subject matter and it’s style) from a rapper since….who gives a fuck? It’s unlike anything that rap radio has been enamored with since “Best I Ever Had”, I’d venture. It made you listen; it showed that Future is a viable star.
But can Nayvadius recapture the success of that smash? Mike Will looks like a key player, and while “Honest” is a charming grower, and “Sh!t” is a menacing grower, neither have had quite the impact on music’s mainstream audience like plenty of other songs from the rapper’s laundry list of incredible hits.
This “rough” patch, compounded by the fact that I (and many others, surely) want to hate Miley without giving her music a fair chance, and exponentially magnified by the fact that I already hate Mr. Hudson, made the announcement of “Real and True” an uneasy way to get excited for Future’s new album. Luckily the song blows a fucking hole through my heart.
The melodies are so beautifully painful, the song is so innocent, that it’s hard for me to even listen without feeling some type of way. It’s astounding to see the guy who blew up off murderous piano keys on “Tony Montana” come back around for a second album with a lush, dreamy, pop ballad that works so well. He really is an alien - he’s singing about getting married, for christ’s sake. Even Wiz Khalifa tends to ignore that whole family thing he’s got going on in his music. Future seems to be running towards it.
As I approached the subway this morning and descended into the money-hungry crowds of working people, Future’s second verse on “Real and True” croaked through my headphones and I got choked up. Miley sounds, um…incredible? on her chorus, and Mr. Hudson is just bland enough to be unnecessary yet not intrusive. The melody, Future’s (dope ass) background humming/aaaah aaah-aaah-ing, the suspended-in-water beat. It’s a record about love, about loneliness, and about finding where the two reconcile. Recently, I’m realizing that I have biases against artists based on either no listening experience or a very narrow one, and songs like “Real and True” penetrate my pesky snobbery - it’s just beautifully earnest, heart on your sleeve music. It’ll transcend hip-hop and R&B. It’ll nestle onto Z100’s playlist. It’ll bring back Jesus. It’s Future’s next big song.