“Wet Leg captures you with melodic mysticism and lush instrumentations morphing beyond surface layer cohesion between drum patterns and electric guitar riffs, especially when the band steers toward pop-rock instead of post-punk overtures.” – LINK TO REVIEW
14. 070 Shake – You Can’t Kill Me
“You Can’t Kill Me isn’t like 070 Shake’s previous album, specifically in the construct of the production. It isn’t devoid of complex layering with the sounds, but it doesn’t deter you by taking a distinct direction that never lands, though some tracks fly past the radar because of uninteresting production. There is a frequency to it, and 070 Shake comes at it with full force and develops a sense of emotional gravitas.” – LINK TO REVIEW
13. Avril Lavigne – Love Sux
“…I haven’t always been absent from her music – some highlights here and there – and it’s a good thing I wasn’t as Avril Lavigne has come with her best work since 2005’s Under My Skin. Love Sux is a dynamic shift from blending nuances of the past with oblique pop. Love Sux knows what it is: lyrically poignant, blending commercialized lingo with riotous rock or rounded pop-punk ballads.” – LINK TO REVIEW
12. Kendrick Lamar – Mr. Morale and the Big Steppers
“It’s a complex text that wants you to decipher beyond the surface layer verbiage, and Kendrick doesn’t make it pleasant. It’s provocative, but that’s a given for him. With complex text, there is complex production, but here, he is building toward growth and showing us a reenergized side of him.” – LINK TO REVIEW
11. Conway the Machine – God Don’t Make Mistakes
“When attempting to bring bangers, he doesn’t stray far from his identity, lyricism; it continues to be a staple of his craft. There’s constant activity on God Don’t Make Mistakes, his major-label debut. There is crisp production from a range of producers, who provide tonal consistency, and there is Conway’s lyricism that never falters.” – LINK TO REVIEW
10. Hurray for The Riff Raff – Life On Earth
“LIFE ON EARTH lands on impact with moments of catching wind as their sound evolves through each track. Alynda Segarra is trying new things, and as she weaves these complex layers in her writing, the production builds till we don’t have one flavor; we have many.” – LINK TO REVIEW
09. Florence + the Machine – Dance Fever
“From the more personal and soul-filled High as Hope to the radiant baroque-pop on Ceremonials, Florence & The Machine have delivered consistently remarkable work, especially with Florence Welch’s ability to meld within any style taken with immense bravado. It’s what has her shining through on their fifth album, Dance Fever.” – LINK TO REVIEW
08. Daddy Yankee – Legendaddy
“Daddy Yankee made reggaeton what it is today, allowing for a free flow of ingenuity to become universally accepted as new artists create their foundation. LEGENDADDY takes various eras of reggaeton and weaves them into a musically transcendent timeline of music history, with Daddy Yankee surprising us at almost every turn.” – LINK TO REVIEW
07. Black Country New Road – Ants Up There
“On Ants from Up There, the band isn’t as altruistic musically; they immerse themselves into balancing the external with the internal. Because of this, Ants from Up There shines, spotlighting itself as one of the best rock albums over the last few years.” – LINK TO REVIEW
06. Kilo Kish – American Girl
“Building a foundation on Experimental and Alternative R&B/Hip-Hop, Kilo Kish branched out and used the basis of what works, adding elements that see her evoking elements of Pop; however, it can become forgettable, especially with her 2016 album, Reflections In Real Time. As a follow-up, America Gurl improves on some of the off-electronic overtones and transitions, with Kilo Kish growing more into who she is as an artist.” – LINK TO REVIEW
05. The Weeknd – Dawn FM
“In a proposed trilogy, After Hours is now the appetizer, as we hear his progression in maturity – musically. However, The Weeknd gives us an afterthought – after the fun and thrills, what was it all for when you’re still left gutted with past regrets. He takes note of late-night radio and creates a similar atmosphere to parallel the sentiments of the average listener – it also maintains a proper balance of genre influence and his intricate ear for music with his producers.” – LINK TO REVIEW
04. Rosalía – Motomami
“Motomami takes experimental directions, allowing Rosalía to explore beyond her comfort zone while retaining a sense of authenticity along the way. It breathes fresh air as she detaches from flamenco-pop past – there are minor blemishes, but it circulates into one cohesive romp that’s constantly catching you by surprise.” – LINK TO REVIEW
03. Vince Staples – Ramona Park Broke My Heart
“The first sounds we hear are waves slowly crashing along the sands of Long Beach, California. We immediately fade into Vince Staples rapping as the faint sounds of the waves blend in the background, and we get reintroduced to inside his head. Ramona Park Broke My Heart is a shifting paradigm of lies and heartbreak, cornering any sense of hope to succeed. Vince Staples’ mind has hypotheticals, realizations, and growing pains that reflect how he views his career after many years under a label–sometimes, of his personality; other times, reflective of his career. But there is more to the project than the parallels in his potent lyricism, which is a constant on Ramona Park Broke My Heart. He is showing us behind the broken walls that surround him. Vince is giving us a lot to break down, from the emotionally-lyrical side and the production, which brings a continuation of greatness heard on his self-titled release last year.” – LINK TO REVIEW
02. Bad Bunny – Un Verano Sin Tí
“Though I wasn’t the craziest on El Último Tour Del Mundo, what he did with a futuristic concept lyrically, was awe-inspiring, especially as he continued to grow artistically. Similarly, the album prior, Yo Hago Lo Que Me Da La Gana, did as the title suggested. Bad Bunny came at it with something new and different, blending various notes from diverse genres and showing us a free-spirited approach to the music. That continues on Un Verano Sin Tí. It’s an album resonant on the vibes, particularly in its construction, which plays in a nearly perfect crescendo from start to finish. He brings fresh features and unique directions we’ve heard a sampling of before; however, here it’s refined, coming at you with various sounds fit its beach/summery aesthetic, despite some lesser tracks, comparatively. It all culminates in excelling the idea Bad Bunny had when creating Un Verano Sin Tí.” – LINK TO REVIEW
01. Angel Olsen – Big Time
“After reinventing herself with different aspects of pop–All Mirrors–and past stark and flaky atmospheres in folk and rock, Angel Olsen continues to shape her art, making music resonant with her identity on her new album, Big Time. In an interview with Pitchfork for the album, Angel Olsen said, “I have learned to let go of the labels and embrace what I’m feeling in the moment. And I ended up making a country record, or something like a country record.” Big Time is emotionally potent and sonically harmonious, bringing new dimensions to her artistry. It skews from modern country conventions, rooting itself in more traditional country, giving her vocal performance depth, reeling you with captivating emotional performances and a sense of whimsy.” – LINK TO REVIEW
If we look at the winners of the Grammy for Album of The Year throughout the past few years, there have been few outliers that pushed away from pop. However, before its dominance in the 2010s, the 00s had musically rich nominees and winners from different genres and sometimes a subversion of pop. Amongst these winners came Norah Jones and her remarkable debut, Come Away With Me.
Come Away With Me has been part of my weekly rotation for the longest, as it embodies sentiments that become begotten when the sun shines, and some of your worries scurry into the shadows. But that isn’t necessarily the case with every song, as some bridge a line of twinkling hope – one of my all-time favorites, “Feelin’ the Same Way,” does so to balance the scale of pop bliss and intricate reflexive songwriting. Norah Jone’s debut brings these sonic elements from jazz, soul, traditional pop, and more to lay a foundation for a constant atmosphere while having the freedom to take on different pitches and styles. She has this ubiquitous laid-back demeanor that makes you feel heard and seen when you’re in the middle. The songwriting guides us through a watery path caused by the storms that flew over as the mind assimilates to a balanced level of serotonin. Norah Jones broadens her vocals by allowing the melodies to counteract the loverly instrumentation beats in the strings and percussion.
Before escalating toward more pronounced Jazz and Traditional Pop ventures, the levels of emotional subtlety Norah Jones uses to guide Come Away With Me left an impression where the loop never ended. I remember it was a darker and rainy Sunday afternoon, and as I sat in the backseat, I almost forgot I had an iPod Classic. I’ve heard “Come Away With Me” and “Don’t Know Why,” but Norah started driving home what this journey would be with the subsequent tracks that succeeded the primary singles – which I just mentioned. What I got was a blend of original composition and covers of songs by Hank Williams, John D. Loudermilk, and Glen Miller.
Now, when I say that Norah Jones has been making more pronounced Jazz and Pop, it’s speaking toward the instrumental side. Come Away With Me has production balancing nuances of mostly deconstructed Acoustic/Traditional Pop, where the rhythm is pertinent with the vocalist instead of overly sizzled drumlines or multi-layered strings that weave a driven sense of acute obscurity. Come Away With Me has songs that are more than just highlighted acoustics and somber piano keys; it integrates subtleties from other percussions – with this, Norah Jones can align unique melodies against compromising cymbals and snares. It separates the creative popstars from the generic ones, though I’m saying this loosely. When the album adds some instrumental definition with bass and drum grooves, it doesn’t deter from the subtleties which align with most songs. It builds upon the core it has created, and it subverts focus from one of many guitar strings to percussion (bass grooves too).
However, what is most pivotal is we hear each song’s identity, whether it comes from the production of “Lonestar” or the vocal complexions of “Nightingale.” Identity is pivotal in Come Away With Me, especially when incorporating its themes – longing, dreams, relationships – Norah writes various narratives that focus on specific aspects – loneliness in “Shoot the Moon” or unrequited love in “I’ve Got To See You Again.” In “Painter’s Song,” she sings about paving her path through paint metaphors. The production sets a sunnier tone with the piano and doubling down with beautiful accordion play in the second half.
At this point, I assume you may be asking yourself, “where is he going here?” I just listed a deconstructed barrage of reasons, from the intricacies of her singing, the songwriting, and production, but I’m not critiquing. Most importantly, I kept gushing and spewing about these intricacies that it seems there is no coherent argument outside of getting you into listening to this album and marveling at what I was marveling at in the past and now. Come Away With Me has been with me for the longest those are just some of the reasons why. I play it when it rains; I play it at night when I want to drift into melancholia. I just want you to feel the same as you listen to Norah Jones’ phenomenal debut.
Digital Meadow is unlike most debuts. Dora Jar comes full force, attacking every part of her senses and letting that inner mythical brain explore the depths of her songwriting. She shifts on a dime, taking intricate themes and playing with them like empowerment on “Wizard.” By creating this persona that flips the perspective of her shyness. Dora Jar is ready to take the next step, and I’m excited to see where she goes.
Full of life and reflection, Actual Life 2 (February 2 – October 15, 2021) is a genuine escape from reality as we sift through the diaries of an artist in tune with his craft.
“Actual Life 2 (February 2 – October 15, 2021) benefits from allowing songs to feel free and atmospheric and having them contain their own identity in the long run. And from it, he rises above his first album and delivers a tighter and more nuanced follow-up that improves on one aspect of Fred’s music without forgetting the key strengths of the first Actual Life and further implementing them cleanly. I wholeheartedly recommend it, especially if you’re an electronic fan.” – FROM REVIEW
Joy Crookes was another artist, who’s debut album left me in awe – she has these complex ideas and realizes them into these larger-than-life short films. She speaks on identity in various forms, which relate to the dual-layer she masks herself with as she dives into her past and delivers topics about locational growth and character growth. The production is ever-shifting and offers a plethora of fun and consistent frequency as it transitions from song to song.
Tyler, the Creator made a Gangsta Grillz album, and it was glorious. What more can you ask for, especially when Tyler continues to show his skills as a producer – Furthermore, it reminds us about his rapping skills, which can sometimes steal the spotlight without causing friction.
After digging deep into her emotions during a tumultuous time, Japanese Breakfast comes with a new sense of life, musically. She covers expressive themes about finding joy post heartbreak and realizing life isn’t perfect, but she finds common ground by letting the ray of light shine. The production is full of jubilant strings and percussion as a means to balance the serotonin in the chemical compounds on Jubilee.
Vince Staples elevates his craft and platform by breaking down his barriers and delivering an intricate look at his life. He’s an artist who knows what he wants and the lengths needed to tell his story, and he delivers.
“The broken-down instrumentations add a lot to the projection of Silberman’s vocals, and the writing has a distinct cadence that you just get lost in the dream as flower petals sway softly in the wind over spring flowers. It stays on that flow as Green to Gold cycles back from the closer, “Equinox,” a lively and hopeful instrumental that shows us a light at the end of our tunnel.” – From Review.
“This continuation on both volumes of Un Canto Por Mexico has been nothing short of amazing. With Vol. 1 she delivers livelier-traditional performances, while Vol. 2 brings a slightly melancholic direction sonically, allowing for the guitars to play bare as Natalia and her musical guests flourish from start to finish.” From Review.
Sometimes I Might Be Introvert subverts what we know about Little Simz as a rapper. She digs into her subconscious and elevates her being and artistry – there are moments she flexes her lyrical and technical skills while exploring themes like introversion and identity. She blends these ideas with the production as well. We see the influence of afrobeat and soul into her songs, especially using the former to create the dynamic “Point and Kill.” I heavily recommend it, no matter which genre you prefer.
Baby Keem came from under the shadows of his superstar cousin Kendrick Lamar to properly define himself after a few test tapes in swampy waters. Hip-Hop isn’t always the kindest, but the niches have allowed any artist to strive – to a certain point, sometimes – and Keem seemed to have something that may not have given him staying power. I’m talking about his vocal tendencies, melodies, and production. The Melodic Blue strives by subverting our thoughts and giving us a proper debut that rolls out monstrous hits, catchy hooks, and a multi-faceted Baby Keem.
Teetering between finding himself spiritually and finding himself musically, DMX’s career over the last decade has been forgettable, to say the least. Listening to Exodus, it was refreshing to hear DMX revert – sonically – to his roots. He whips up a whirlwind of songs that deliver nuances to the old while keeping itself modern – from a classic posse cut with The Lox, a classic triad with Jay-Z and Nas, a standout performance alongside Moneybagg Yo, who does the same, the path is limitless. Unfortunately, I thought so from looking at the tracklist. However, the few rough patches come with artists that tread into poppier sounds – his originality still holds it together tightly.
It’s hard to come up with the right words to describe Donda, and so I implore you to click the link above and read my review as it explains my true feelings.
Gotham took a chance with a sucker punch, and it lands firmly on your face. I can attribute that to Diamond D’s masterful production and rhyme skills alongside another NY veteran and master lyricist in Talib Kweli, which takes me back to that classic gritty boom-bap style of the past you sometimes want now and then.
“LP! is raw. It is filled to the brim with interpersonal raps and linguistic gymnastics as JPEGMAFIA delivers how he feels like a creator. The visceral imagery on both sides of the coin continuously glows in front of the many aspects that make the music great, especially in Part II of “TIRED, NERVOUS & BROKE! (SICK, NERVOUS, AND BROKE!),” where JPEG and Kimbra create a melancholic unison. It may not be my favorite JPEG album so far, but it packs enough punch to be a solid follow-up to his last album, All My Heroes Are Cornballs.” From Review.
One thing that I’ve always admired about Joell Ortiz is his hunger. Amongst prominent New York rappers, he has never stood out like his contemporaries – The Lox, Cam’ron, and Fabolous, to name a few. But that hunger gives us a potent personal reflection on his career and life in an excursion through great production and multi-faceted layers of character depth in his verses.
Nas improves his craft heavily on King’s Disease 2, from the lyrical depth to stylistic constructs. He still fails to find his footing when creating “hits,” though Nas isn’t the one who fails, his features sometimes don’t bring that same energy like A Boogie on the song “YKTV,” or they are underused like Blxst on “Brunch On Sundays.” But most of the album hits as Nas takes everything by the horns and delivers us some heavily introspective work that drops knowledge bombs like on “Death Row.” It’s an overall fantastic listen.
"I Died For This?! is far from your typical debut, similar to Kendrick Lamar’s GKMC; it is about telling his story and upbringing. The only difference is the universal appeal that comes from the music. Grip’s debut takes us through his upbringing and everyday situations burdening him and his community. Grip’s creativity sounded limited in the past, with simple bounce production weighing his style down from growing." From Review.
Grip’s raw energy and determination to prove his worth only embolden his strengths to mask some basic chorus deliveries – it’s sometimes common for new artists, especially for rappers privy to his style of lyricism. Unfortunately, a few tracks don’t stick the landing – it derives from Grip’s breather from different angles of his craft.
"Of the four projects Boldy James and The Alchemist have made together, Bo Jackson is the best. It never creates friction allowing everyone to breathe on the track in their distinctive ways." From Review.
It’s hard to come up with the right words to describe A Beautiful Revolution Pt. 2, and so I implore you to click the link above and read my review.
"Tempus exceeds beyond the parameters of the walls it imposes on itself fora marketable reach, but Issa Gold has never been one to glamorize success as his mental health still hits him in strife. These recurring themes have been a looming shadow on the rapper as he comes to grips with the way life changed. He may not have the appeal of New York rappers who encompass, the currently trendy, New York Drill sound and expand it to fit the unique niche of their verbal artistry." From Review.
"The Color Blu(e) isn’t as profound and tightly wound as Miles, but Blu doesn’t take shortcuts. He still comes at full force with diverse subjects and verses that are as memorable as the production. From the various samples, some of which are as luscious as “Mr. Blue Sky,” you’ll still find more pieces to dissect and enjoy. In terms of hip-hop, this is one of the best projects this year, and it earns one of my more earnest recommendations." From Review.
"Call Me If You Get Lost shows Tyler, the Creator consistent ascension toward greatness as he continues to surprise us with new sounds, album after album. After a slew of great releases that didn’t always come together tightly, Tyler finds an equilibrium that highlights his strengths as an artist in what could be deemed his best work of his career and creating a landmark within generalized nostalgia trends going about these days." From Review.
"Vince Staples gives us Vince delivering his most personal work to date in a melancholic and depth-filled album. For some, the album may deter you due to its length and others may be deterred due to the uncanniness of the sound. Though it isn’t uncanny as Vince has been everywhere and on different instrumentals, that this subdued direction isn’t anything new. It is an album that is as fresh as they come, especially with the wrought trend going on in hip-hop today and I highly recommend you give it a listen and more than once." From Review.
Sometimes I Might Be Introvert is Little Simz’s best work – it’s introspective, clear-headed musically, and offers a mix that gets us her lyrical best. The production never wanes into becoming a distraction, as it only amplifies her strengths. From incorporating sounds that bridge hip-hop and Afrobeat to luminous hip-hop with soul and electronic undertones, the music has a consistent path where the switches are fluid without hindrance. Check out the review by clicking the link above.
When Faces came out in 2014, the ethereal levels Mac Miller imposes on himself has given the title a more direct meaning — opposed to forcing his hand with what works, though it’s been somewhat similar since Macadellic. Watching Movies saw Mac Miller juxtaposing his aspirations with themes that embrace the broken humanity inside, despite coming off brash a few times. Unlike Watching Movies, Mac incorporates lines from Bill Murray, Charles Bukowski, Hunter S. Thompson, and others as a means to personify his different faces. Unfortunately, these samples won’t see the light of day on the DSP releases since clearing them could get expensive in the long run. But as I’ve spent the last week and a half revisiting the project, a few things ran through my mind — most importantly, how Faces is in some ways a personification of the many facets of Mac Miller’s artistry.
Faces is unlike a lot of Mac Miller projects — it diverges from a tight focus to having loose cohesion with slightly varying production styles. On Faces, you hear Mac Miller, along with co-producers like Thundercat and randomblackdude (Earl Sweatshirt), delivering an array of dreamy, bombastic, jazzy, and psychedelic overtones. And from the percussion-heavy“Malibu” to the smooth cadence of “55,” an interlude orchestrated by Mac and Thundercat, the mixtape would, indirectly, foreshadow the different directions Mac took. “Insomniak” left an impression upon revisiting as it mirrors the flows and production of GO:OD AM, while songs like “Grand Finale” and “Colors and Shapes” feel more aligned with his last two albums.
Like the projects that follow, features and producers are an embodiment of the style Mac Miller approached. In GO:OD AM, Mac Miller delivers smooth, witty, and matured raps over percussion-heavy productions — sans the Lil B interlude. Faces gave fans feature artists feeling loose like most mixtapes and their raw aesthetics. GO:OD AM is tighter by having a cohesive direction in sound. From Frank Dukes to DJ Dahi, the producers have a keen sense of style for percussion — whether it is a solo production or work amongst a few, it takes you through the wringer as Mac Miller flexes. We’ve heard him in pieces, open up about his childhood and adolescence, sometimes bordering on drug abuse and mental health issues, like on “I Know Who I Am (Killin’ Time).” And it continued on Faces.
Before the release of GO:OD AM, I was one of many that questioned a lot from listening to Faces. Most of which came from Mac Miller’s inherent drug use and the jaw-dropping moment in “Grand Finale,” where Mac mentions how his habits have worsened, that he’s surprised to be alive. In GO:OD AM, Mac Miller took a different sense of direction, focusing on his successes, family, and future as the music takes a closer look at the immediate world around him as he went from 0-100 real quick in notoriety. GO:OD AM focuses on Mac’s next move, predominately on his and his families well being — it becomes tongue-in-cheek with concepts and titles that speak more than words suggest. With songs like “Brand Name” and “100 Grand Kids,” Mac plays around with his future, knowing he has secured a promising start to the bag. “Insomniak” and “Diablo” mirror what would be the production of this follow-up the year after. “Diablo” has these dark piano keys that subtly control the perceived percussion levels as Mac smoothly raps over it — the production on “Weekend” delivers nuances to the piano keys on “Diablo.”
It would allow him to change face again as he’d release The Divine Feminine.
The Divine Feminine isn’t grounded in typical Mac Miller fashion, with the most non-esoteric song being “Dang!” It sees Mac Miller embracing a form of hip-hop that is hard to create — the concept album. The Divine Feminine embraces a different style where Mac breaks down his walls again, giving fans a conscious understanding of his idea of love as he battles the trials and tribulations of the past. Like GO:OD AM, it continues to show the many faces of Mac Miller — this time incorporating different producers, prevalent to weaving soul and jazz samples on productions to add an extra level of oomph to the music. You hear Mac playing around with these soundscapes on Faces, whether it’s from finding the right way to incorporate “55” and “Angel Dust” within the big picture.
I go more in-depth with The Divine Feminine in my retrospective review, which you can read here.
Swimming and Circles closes a sudden chapter in Mac Miller’s life. It’s a duality between an artist giving a-semi-last go at rap before swimming to a world/genre he once thought about pursuing — singer/songwriter, as he was a homegrown multi-instrumentalist. It wasn’t until The Divine Feminine that we heard Mac Miller singing and pouring his soul out, and it would continue on Swimming, where the melancholy shrouded any sense of realized light in his eye. Mac Miller takes the production and subverts expectations by delivering a blend of genuine hip-hop and other nuances, like the spacey-funk-inspired “Self Care” and the subtle flows of “Small Worlds.” And it comes full-circle on Circles, a sudden 180 from hip-hop as he sings and performs with sadness and despair. Circles saw Mac collaborating with multi-instrumentalist and film-scorer Jon Brion as he weaved together this masterful piece of music. The relative nuances in some of the songs of Faces mirror where we are with Circles — “Grand Finale” and “Good News” in particular, reflect how we feel as fans today, as it expresses two moods: denial and acceptance.
As we’ve turned the corner at another year without Mac Miller, the family and the world embrace the music, and each other, as we collectively remember the legacy he left. Faces make sure of that — especially Rick Ross on “Insomniak,” who lets Mac know about their kinship as artists. If you haven’t listened to Faces, I implore you to do so as it contains some of Mac’s best work as a rapper.
I’ve always had this unique upbringing with music. It started with hip-hop before descending back in time to a time where popular music ranged from an era of Swing, Traditional Pop, Jazz to one of New Wave and Adult Contemporary. With the plethora of artists, a few names stuck through like Tears for Fears and Tony Bennett. Tony, like many contemporaries, shared songs throughout the years since intellectual property didn’t have the weight it does today — the songwriting and construction further made it easier to discover variations attuned to your preference. Because of this, you can choose a different sensation when it comes to the dance floor. Tony Bennett is known for his lovely vocal pitch that resonates with smooth jazz while encompassing a broader picture in pop.
I’m not going to come here and break down the aspects of Tony that make him astounding. If you’re of my age, 27, ask your parents about Tony or go on a journey during a weekend day — with a glass of bourbon neat and let the music whisk you away. From countless Traditional Pop records and smooth jazz, a lot of the music Tony embodied had a cadence, and as he grew into bringing the groove, you knew there was nothing that could stop that voice. As I wrap up, I’d like to say this playlist below is a little dear to me — the music took me through a weird journey on my first hallucinogenic trip in New York City. I hope you enjoy it and don’t forget to check out the legend’s final duets album with Lady Gaga this weekend.
Indie Rapper Blu has always shifted the paradigms of his sound, going from mixtape to mixtape and album to album; however, before I ever heard his debut Below The Heavens, there was Her Favorite Colo(u)r. His projects have enveloped consistent themes on multiple levels, sometimes digging beyond conceptual equilibrium. Her Favorite Colo(u)r is told through the duality of expressionism and artistic representation, as the film dialogue samples become a representation of Blu’s character — in most cases inadvertently since these films are also part of Blu’s struggle with hip-hop.
Blu has never been a show-off emcee, declaring so on the song “Amnesia”: “Fuck a rapper/I’m an actor in a film called/Leave me the fuck alone til’ I find a real job.” To him, this is a job and aspiration. And it becomes conflicting with these external situations weighing on him hard, further becoming an existential distraction. It is why “Amnesia” represents his character as a rapper — mirrored by consistent output over the last decade-plus. Interestingly, Her Favorite Colo(u)r is one of the few Blu projects where the samples guide the trajectory of the moods and sounds.
On Her Favorite Colo(u)r, Blu breaks down walls and barriers using a style not seen as often. Mac Miller did similarly with K.I.D.S. as it used a film and some of the quotations and meanings to dictate the kind of story Mac wanted to share. Instead, Blu builds upon it by equating his favorite movies to the moods that have befallen him — based on his life to this point. Most times, it’s the emotional imbalances that happen as he struggles with his partner’s infidelity. His emotions shift on a paradigm, and in the intro, he questions why he keeps things stored, especially in love. In “Morning,” he uses the scene from Closer where Clive Owen discovers his wife’s infidelity, and the argument they have is reflective of some of the songs where Blu focuses on their fights.
Her Favorite Colo(u)r is Blu’s “I Used To Lover H.E.R.” The song by Common broke down the intricacies of rap and the broader range it can reach, which in turn flips into dissing gangster rap and the purview it delivers on the music, even though this problem comes from a separate barrier to film subtitles, which people can’t get through. Her Favorite Colo(u)r, in particular, is referential toward this notion, as Blu speaks on music as his significant other, explaining through relationship-based terminology. He brings these allusions in his verses, like in “When(Terlude),” where raps: “Happy just to be with Classy as a drink/Ink pen separation, been a minute since.”
But this all begins with “Love,” which samples the birthday scene in Punch Drunk Love. In this scene, Barry Egan suffers through typical sibling bashing as his sisters question his relationship status — particularly, the why. They allude to the potential notion that it stems from being gay due to the timidness and never seeing him with a date. The riffing is expressed through a means of normality since they are siblings, and it’s been a thing since they were kids — at this moment, being called gayboy hit his peak, and a mental breakdown occurs where.
The focus of this scene is love. It starts with Barry’s sisters questioning his lack of a significant other and forcing a meaning that love is crucial for happiness. Unfortunately, Barry’s unstableness reflects some of the more impulsive decisions he makes, despite some kind of clear understanding of his doing. Like music, one’s sound is ever-changing, and sometimes they let pieces of genius slip. Blu, like others, has been told to stop the artistic direction because of one’s margin for error toward heightening success. Hip-Hop has given him the rough end of the stick with songs that detail their issues, like the arguments on “When(Terlude),” which refers to his struggle with writer’s block.
As well, It mirrors the constant directional focus Blu has on the music, retrospectively. At the time, it speaks on his emotional struggle with hip-hop. Before, he had highs with Below the Heavens, before falling into becoming another underground mainstay with projects like Johnson&Johnson, which featured some notable pop artists at the time like John Legend. It’s reflective in the song “Vanity,” where Blu looks at trying to perfect his flaws, despite it being a part of him — both in hip-hop and in life. For him, his flaws related to his reach as an artist. His sound isn’t necessarily pop or radio-friendly, especially in hip-hop stations. Unfortunately, they are still pop. After going through this, he starts to understand that the reach will grow with him as he sticks to his identity and focuses on the words — similar to Postmaster P in Leprechaun In The Hood.
In “Vanity,” he uses the word as a double entendre that focuses on his issues, trying to grow away from them — even when his friends speak on it being a sentiment he is feeling. Vanity, in terms of film, usually relates to the depth of the character. When a critic laments the lack of vanity, they are saying they lack depth due to unrewarding character growth.
Becoming the antithesis of Blu’s persona, the music he bouts with has become a consistent identity of his music. Many of his music has been a remnant — albeit consistently unique variations — of his sound since Below the Heavens and the intricate jazz and soul samples cut between songs and vocal interludes. It’s a sample-heavy project that adds to a traditional stepping stone for hip-hop. What cuts deep is the unique sample of “You And Whose Army?” by Radiohead on “Untitled (LovedU) 2,” interplaying a verse detailing an inner squabble with detail.
Her Favorite Colo(u)r flows with the samples that underline the elegant and calm-like summer-vibez centric percussion. It’s tangential with letting the words retain focus while the backing production creates the flow from start to finish since he constructs a soliloquy. With the interludes and songs that reflect variations of his struggle, like on “Pardon,” Blu is self-aware as he fights with himself about how he will be in the future as an artist (selling out) and how the experiences may reflect his views on others. The song closes with a line from the documentary, Crumb, about cartoonist Robert Crumb — known for his adult-like and satirical comics, like Fritz the Cat and Weirdo — “You think those guys look like they’ll ever be sensitive to my record collection? (laughing)/A bunch of football jocks, ‘What do you got here? A bunch of old albums or something?'” With it, Blu reveals how he compares to heavyweights; he likes the niche, others like the cool.
It’s funny; throughout my years writing about music, movie references have been prominent in creating analogies and scenes in hip-hop music — sometimes dialogue samples would be implemented for the atmosphere or to perpetuate an identity, like Wu-Tang. Others use dialogue samples from films more resonate with their culture and create an identity for the song — see “Success” on the Jay-Z album American Gangster or “Chuckie” by Geto Boys. These films derive from a cave filled with VHS and old LaserDiscs of Gangster, Hood, and Music related films. Like Blu, there are rare and random ones like Gravediggaz sampling Ferris Buehler’s Day Off.
On Her Favorite Colo(u)r, Blu brought in a collection of his favorite movies, viewed from a different lens. He guides us through a beautiful soliloquy that remedies his issues with music. Seeing it as another entity lets the project have a broader platform. For Blu, music has been a crutch and a dream. I’ve delivered to you a layout of what consists of this project. And I hope my job continues and implores you to seek this project.
There aren’t many rappers who immediately jump to me to listen to their work within minutes of release — Kanye, Common, and Mac Miller, are, and were, some of the very few I have a watchful ear. Like I’ve mentioned previously, I’m someone who holds superlatives at a low — save for the few — some astound me from the length since original release or the feeling of time in-between. For Mac Miller, The Divine Feminine is the latter. The five years since haven’t felt like five years. I remember when I first heard The Divine Feminine — immediately, I galavanted about proclaiming this as Mac’s opus as an artist. To this day, I still firmly believe it, despite knowing that Mac had something better lying dormant in the crevices of his mind that we will never get to hear.
Mac Miller has always been a gifted musician; however, after Watching Movies With The Sound Off, Mac Miller would shift almost all the production to others. For an artist, it is sometimes hard to create unison between sound motifs when using different producers as their input is varied on their strengths. And Mac is privy to this, as he didn’t dabble with production until later in his career. He has been able to create cohesive and intricate music, as his focus remained on sonic motifs — Macadellic had psychedelic overtones, K.I.D.S had boom-bap made by weed smokers, and The Divine Feminine has whimsical piano keys. It speaks to the vulnerability, as it is a standard for love ballads, which in turn mirrors the vulnerability we hear from his singing.
Mac Miller is a standard falsetto without much range in pitch, with his voice only going deeper. But like his storytelling skills, Mac lets his voice express vulnerability since it allows for more emotional range than rapping. Whether we are listening to his darkened thoughts, clogged in the back of his mind like on “Grand Finale” off his Faces, or remedy an argument like on “We” off The Divine Feminine, we’re left in awe by how personable he can be. Mac isn’t new to singing, but he put it on the back burner since it wasn’t one of his strengths.
Unlike Mac Miller’s projects at the time, ambition for him came in the form of song construction since he maintained leveled hip-hop patterns throughout the first half of the decade. Good A:M saw Mac being more experimental with production, song construction, and overall concept. It’s his first fully-fleshed out concept album, as he looks at a modern relationship, specifically, that of two people whose love burns more than the outer layers suggest.
The Divine Feminine has simple and complex situations that may occur in relationships with depth and relatability. With a clear mindset, Mac relays over his mistakes and the virtues of patience and love through songs like “Congratulations,” “My Favorite Part,” and “Soulmate,” where Mac finds himself feeling engulfed by many thoughts that fluster his mind. “Congratulations” represents the sentiment from memories that back her divine nature, according to Mac. “Soulmate” sees Mac quantifying the meaning of the word over these triumphant horns on the production, representing the angelic glow he places on his significant other.
“My Favorite Part” was many fan’s introductions to a song where Mac Miller is solely singing. He’s sung hooks and eloquent covers live, which he did on tours — something I was fortunate enough to witness. And on the surface level of “My Favorite Part,” it doesn’t read duet, considering their musical history — and ballsy considering Ariana’s talent. But that flies out the window as soon as the song hits. Following the path of minimalism, in comparison to songs from others of similar nature, they beautifully complement each other, and it has to do with their chemistry.
“My Favorite Part” is a smooth jazz ballad that exemplifies his deep falsetto, which beautifully compliments the lounge nature of the production. It’s calm and endearing, and you feel the spark between the two. It leaves you entranced with the groovy bass lines to maintain center stage with the percussion. Like the production, “Cinderella” stands out as the best song on The Divine Feminine. It’s a beautiful rap ballad with Ty Dolla Sign, speaking on his idealization and love for Ariana Grande — it is the only song about her on the album. “Cinderella” is split in two — the first part is about Mac’s patience with her, despite other woman’s advances; the second part explains how she made him feel after their first collaboration.
With The Divine Feminine, Mac Miller found something rooted within and explored it with the utmost detail, despite a few songs failing to reach the high point others hit. There are songs like “Skin” and “Planet God Damn,” where the former is the one that isn’t good and the latter, which is enjoyable if you’re into crass and dirty rap. Its placement feels slightly forced, as Mac makes this song specifically about sex, similar to “Skin,” which goes from an endearing love fable to implementing crude lyrics. From there, it starts to lose some importance within the overall concept.
However, what surrounds these songs are some of Mac Miller’s most focused work. Swimming and Circles levied the personable nature, which has given Mac ease with writing intricate rhymes and keeping a consistency. Despite being personal, The Divine Feminine digs into a different sector to deliver common perspectives in a slightly uncanny fashion. Mac takes life experiences; specifically, with past partners, as he reflects growth through different themes, like the meaning of a soulmate and the moods that snap amid an argument. On “Stay,” Mac takes an alternate route to the subject — he pleads to his significant other to stay so he can remedy the situation, as opposed to immediately trying to subvert her trust back with promises that he’ll get better.
Now, it isn’t uncanny for rappers to make love songs, but Mac Miller shifted the concept on its head as he finds new ways to deliver potent material. So, instead of making rudimentary raps about their dates, looks, and flexing riches, Mac is keeping simple by focusing on what makes him happy and trying to maintain stability in this aspect of life. This innate focus has allowed Mac to see the bigger picture when crafting his albums, especially The Divine Feminine. I hold this album in high regard because Mac isn’t just focusing on himself. We see him seeing other perspectives, aghast when they act the opposite, and feeling warmth the more he spends time with his divine feminine.
In hindsight, The Divine Feminine is Mac Miller’s best work. He takes the wheel and allows his worldview to impact the various moods, whether personal or slightly oblique. But is it perfect? No, but it isn’t far from it. It set the first step for Mac to continue elevating his music with a purpose, and as a fan at the time, it was all one could ask since music heads still had some waning hesitancy. Mac himself was also slowly pushing away from the Frat/Stoner raps of his past and trying to elevate his music to newer levels. He creates depth, even when some songs carry standard situational story structures. The Divine Feminine turned 5, September 16, 2021, and it feels like it’s been 10. The world misses you, Mac.
Like many fans, I, too, have been stressing with the Donda album rollout by Kanye West. But as someone with patience, it’s easy to keep my head held high as I return to his past work and indulge in its brilliance. I’ve spoken about College Dropout and MBDTF in the past, and instead of treading familiar water, let’s return to the dirtier pastures of Wyoming.
I remember that night vividly. I was in the early stages of my probation for marijuana and trying to find a new way to get inebriated. And like any white woman in her 50s, I turned to wine, specifically white zinfandel. The listening party was a vivid and comforting experience. You saw people from all walks of life (creatively) in their hoodies and jeans, smoking blunts around a fire. The last time an experience felt like this, was ironically, a time when Jason Kidd signed my New Jersey Nets baseball cap at a game in 2006. I could go on being faux about how this album made me realize I was constantly looking for external means to satisfy my happiness. It didn’t. But it made me realize that Ye was far more than the ecstatic crowd made it seem.
A little over three years have passed since the release of 2018 Ye and the seminal live stream release. And I’m left wondering how this critically loved album saw Kanye West at his bleakest, leaving minimal impact on the context. Unlike most Kanye West albums, Ye embraces its dark overtures with rampant drum patterns and moody tones. At this point, we knew he was bipolar and isn’t trying much to fix it. And his stubbornness was a known personality trait. However, the public wasn’t aware of why he kept himself away from help. He answers this on the album, while adding layers to the WHY?
Understand that this is my dissection of themes and lyrics of Ye concerning his mental health in 2018.
Ye opens with “I Thought About Killing You,” a perplexing duality of man, where Kanye’s shadow comes out to play and interjecting himself in many of Kanye’s moments in life. His mind is closed off from true happiness, reeling in the now instead of fixing the burgeoning weight on his shoulders. It opens to floodgates for an album composed in a state of crisis, switching between heightened emotions and gleamingly haunting vocal performances.
Kanye West refers to himself in the third person, seemingly contrasting his open-face persona, adamant about one’s authenticity, despite the cost. His waning mental health saw him finding new avenues to explore. If you take the concept of the devil and the angel on your shoulder with Kanye’s last two albums, then Ye spoke his true nature: distant and distorted, while JIK reminded us of his footing in front of religion. “I Thought About Killing You” opens with a spoken word poem with an eerie parallel to the shoulder concept. His shadow is composed of every negative thought and purported energy from Kanye’s life. And due to these thoughts, the shadow decided that Kanye should kill himself for the better.
“The most beautiful thoughts are always beside the darkest
Today, I seriously thought about killing you
I contemplated, premeditated murder“
– I Thought About Killing You.
With this constant battle between minds, Kanye fights with logic. Since he’s bipolar, one side of him loves himself, and another side wants to die, but he has been adamant, in the past, about not seeking help. And the more a mental illness goes untreated, the more unstable the person can get. And Kanye expresses that instability throughout the album. So as Kanye nears the end of his poem, he breaks down underlying issues that contribute to this, like his innate focus on a consistent opinion and relation to others to compensate for his insecurities.*
*He fleshes this out on “No Mistakes,” which explores other reasons behind his depression, like his financial debt and inherent arrogance. We know this from his broad stance on advice, specifically people less successful than him.
“Yikes” builds upon his personality, particularly his bipolar nature and addiction. At the end of “I Thought About Killing You,” Kanye claims that the public wants to him goape. And he does it as a contrast to the chorus and last verse, which expresses the potential frights from being addicted to opioids. It is part of Kanye’s struggle with the idea of drugs, meaning: doing these drugs can get frightening, but it has me feeling relaxed at my apex. In the first verse, Kanye raps:
“I done died and lived again on DMT, huh
See, this a type of high that won’t come down
This the type of high that get you gunned down
Yeezy, Yeezy trollin’ OD, huh
Turn TMZ to Smack DVD, huh“
Kanye is saying that his drug use became a reflection of himself, using what people thought of him after his infamous TMZ appearance, where he proclaimed slavery was a choice. And in the second verse, Kanye takes us back to 2016. During a stop on the Life of Pablo Tour, he fainted from exhaustion and stress. He awoke in a hospital feeling loose from the drugs, and he describes a feeling like he is on top of the world.
“Ayy, hospital band a hundred bands, fuck a watch
Hundred grand’ll make your best friends turn to opps
I hear y’all bringin’ my name up a lot
Guess I just turned the clout game up a notch
See, y’all really shocked, but I’m really not“
As someone who had a slight itch for opioids, this feeling can get addicting. However, for me, it was the euphoric high that made me feel happier and relaxed. It disoriented my reality, and I became a shell of my former self, similar to Kanye after getting sober. So it doesn’t surprise me that these visions of grandiose and greatness warped his mind and making him feel like a young, arrogant rockstar. Within this zone, he mentions his name’s popularity in the news. He attributes it to his name and his increasing clout, but that isn’t the case. It’s from the few controversial statements, speeches, and so forth, through most of the second half of the 2010s that he has delivered. From here, Kanye’s views get distorted, and he begins to rap on his savage shit. See, his sounds have changed more than his overall character. Kanye is consistently imposing too much stress on himself because he wants to remain seen at his apex. Despite his contrasting views, the outro returns to the second verse, where Kanye feels superhuman. He ends it by saying being bipolar is like being a superhero.
Kanye doesn’t consider being bipolar a deterrent, and instead, he thinks it is an effective tool to his success. This unique mindset can be great, but as fictional media has shown, superheroes attract more destruction than peace. He is fully embracing his mental disease; however, it isn’t for the better. Maybe it is why Kanye is adamant about this ironic proclamation:
“Niggas been tryna test my Gandhi
Just because I’m dressed like Abercrombie“
Whether Kanye ponders about neurological reasons behind celebrities who cheat on their significant other or describing to us what his mind is like as a musical genius with bipolar, Kanye becomes telling about his self-destructive nature. When Kanye first ventured into fashion, he received off-color confusion. He reaches for the unattainable. Kanye wants to be a revolutionary in the fashion industry, relating himself to the levels of Gandhi; however, people note his style isn’t revolutionary with his Abercrombie-like ideas. So for subsequent years, it was seen as a gamble. From his erratic behavior to consistent mind changing, it is a dangerous path to proceed. Kanye reminds us of this behavior in the following song as he continues with his demeanor. He expresses his erratic behavior through random and provocative rap bars, like the obvious “none of us would be here without cum” off the song “All Mine.”
“All Mine” follows “Yikes.” It focuses on his carnal desires and how fighting against them has been part of fixing his self-destructive nature. He comes across as an arrogant macho who has boyish moments that can be a bit crass, like most of his public actions. But this is one of two aspects of the relationship that Kanye tries to mediate, with the other being non-sexual and more nuanced. He is coping with unwarranted happiness, as his mistakes could make anyone leave. He questions all this on the following song, “Wouldn’t Leave.”
Transitioning to “Wouldn’t Leave,” Kanye West reveals his progression as a person. Realizing his mistakes, Kanye brings to Kim acceptance of any potential divorce or separation due to his radical nature. He brings up his many mistakes, including a reference back to his slavery comment on TMZ. He shows that his mind has an issue keeping his mouth from speaking randomly, creating these altruistic controversies.
In the song “Yikes,” Kanye claims that people believe he was on drugs for his controversial statement on TMZ but played off with two contrasts. However, on “Wouldn’t Leave,” his self-destructive personality is under a microscope as he continues to tiptoe around the truth, despite constantly telling Kim he’ll change. This ranges from his money woes to becoming headline news. It’s his juxtaposition to the previous song, which vindicates cheaters as Kanye humbles his loyalty. Nevertheless, this isn’t the number one quality he needs to reaffirm to Kim, but with his loose behavior, this felt compelling. He is more than understanding, but it isn’t levying any anxiety induced by the thoughts he mentioned he had on “Wouldn’t Leave.”
Kanye finds his actions harder to redeem, but seeing the tight-knit family structure built upon trust has kept him afloat. As previously mentioned in the song “No Mistakes,” Kanye continues to rap about his woes, monetary and mental, that it becomes part of his identity. He is at war with his mind as Kim’s reasoning to stay with him is beyond just for the kids. These thoughts are reflected in his verse, as he raps the lines:
“Just imagine if they caught me on a wild day
Now I’m on fifty blogs gettin’ fifty calls
My wife callin’, screamin’, say we ’bout to lose it all
Had to calm her down ’cause she couldn’t breathe
Told her she could leave me now, but she wouldn’t leave“
– Wouldn’t Leave
Everything that I’ve said about the songs that precede “Ghost Town” is a path toward the landscape of Kanye’s mind. “Ghost Town” paints the scene; you’re in a hollow place, full of buildings that contain aspects of Kanye’s personality hidden behind his true self and his shadow. His verse describes contrasting ideas, which has made it hard for him to have a centered and fleshed-out conversation about his opinions without being the butt of the joke. We all think these controversial statements come from a man seeking attention or just plain nuts, and not in a clinical way. It’s unfortunate, because he is speaking his truth but we don’t see it and eventually, it becomes part of his shadow and allowing it to grow.
“I’m on one, two, three, four, five
No half-truths, just naked minds
Caught between space and time
This not what we had in mind
But maybe some day“
– Ghost Town
Unequivocally, Kanye has his authentic opinions, but the lack of knowledge disavows us from seeing it as such. He is constantly guilty and never innocent. His feelings are reflective of this as New Jersey singer 070 Shake delivers a two-minute solo about being a kid and feeling free. She elongates the harmony of the word free to emphasize Kanye’s insecurities behind speaking his mind. He wants to feel free of these stressors and be his authentic self, but people neglecting that because it’s a common occurrence for Kanye now. His mind is a Ghost Town, and this absence of thought is caused by a fear that he can’t speak his truth without being the butt of the joke.
Ye ends with “Violent Crimes.” After everything he has been through, Kanye understands that the goal is to be the best father for his daughters. And this song is a proclamation that he will be a shotgun father or the dad you’d have to work off an arm and a leg to receive his blessings. It isn’t about being overprotective but instead a mentor. He has gone full circle. In this ongoing battle with his mind, he has a sense of clarity around family. Kanye tackles this subtly on Ye, specifically on “I Thought About Killing You.” He opens the second verse of this song by claiming he made a call to his family for clarity and help.
In an ironic twist of fate, “Violent Crimes” ends with a vocal recording of Nicki Minaj re-taking a set of lines in which Kanye notes his hopes that his daughters end up like Nicki. Today, this idea is a little more taboo considering Nicki’s negative baggage, like attacking victims of sexual assault as a means to protect her family. But she is married to a rapist, her brother is a known pedophile, and she supports them. When Kanye mentions he wants his daughters to be monsters, he is referring to her confidence. Nicki takes back these words by repeating them in the outro. Kanye jokingly jabs that Nicki slept around a lot, but not in poor taste as is usually the case. It’s a touching focus, as he lets his daughters know about their parent’s love for them.
Ye can be a lot to unpack, especially when it comes to his psyche. Throughout Ye, we saw glimpses of Kanye acting hazardous as he lets his bipolar disorder consume him and his music. One minute Kanye is contemplative and sensible; another minute, he is acting crazy off the drugs. The fears he underlines in his music speaks to many things zooming through his brain — non-deserving love, new ways to cope, trying to be on top of the world, while course-correcting past mistakes that made him a controversial topic in the media. It has created an internal conflict with himself as he is in a constant state of doubt. And his provocatively callous nature does not help him.
It’s hard to make up how to feel about listening to this. One minute I’m eviscerated, sonically, as the production flourishes and Kanye’s consistency makes you act buck wild, but hearing Ye is almost like a calling card. Even if Kanye doesn’t seek help, you shouldn’t pin yourself at the same mental tier as him. He may look strong, but not many are. On a side-note: watching Bachelor In Paradise this week, one contestant calmly said that she bottles her emotions, then followed the statement with a nervous cry-for-help chuckle. She is gorgeous and shows a lot of confidence, but like Kanye, it’s hidden by not entirely real.
As you choose to listen to Ye, amongst others, as preparation for Donda next week at Soldier Field in Chicago, know that Kanye has been through a lot over the past five years. He dropped an album and pulled it back to fix wolves. His indecisive nature has taken fans through similar mental turmoil since his music is equivocal to a powerhouse Marvel film, and they live and breathe off the hype. But his music reconfirms that it’s worth the wait as we don’t want to see him taking a step back on finding inner peace and being a wonderful father for his children. I hope you enjoyed reading my piece on Ye, and I hope you hear and understand what Kanye has been saying, whether it is a plea for help or not.
80s nostalgia has been a new trend in pop music that hasn’t fizzled as more artists begin to steer toward it. In 2020, Dua Lipa and The Weeknd embraced it and elevated the sound, further launching them to megastardom. Recently, many artists have begun to embrace this trend and morph with their style, like Marina and her nostalgic shift on Ancient Dreams In A Modern Land. However, many artists haven’t been able to make the kind splash Dua Lipa and The Weeknd. The Weeknd continues to have an impact with his new single, “Take My Breath.” We hear an expansion of his range as we see a dynamic shift from his last album, After Hours, as he conquers a new nostalgic decade.
On After Hours, The Weeknd found proper equilibrium amongst modern styles and the sonic tenacities of pop music in the 80s. From “Save Your Tears” to “Heartless,” you can hear how these young producers have the will to learn and harness a style, further adding weight to their range. Like Mark Ronson mentioned on a recent episode of the podcast, Switched On Pop: while working with Amy Winehouse, he wasn’t aware of the music she wanted to emulate, but he learned, and they made dynamite songs together. The slow and tempered jazz music didn’t fit within his limits of comfortability before, and he makes it work. It makes the production of After Hours stand out more than his previous works. Fortunately, he had Max Martin to polish the electric-nostalgia overtones.
As one of the most notable pop producers since the 90s, Max Martin has been elevating pop year by year, which is rare to see in a producer. It continues to translate as he blends the synths with bubbly percussion and a groovy bass lick. Co-Producer, Oscar Holter, helps blend layers, which shift the parameters between disco and synth-wave. None of these have been inherent strengths of Max Martin, with Oscar filling in the talent with synths. It makes the production of “Take My Breath” breathtaking as you see masters at work.
Mirroring the style of Eurodance and Electronic music from the 90s, which focused on catchy grooves instead of memorable choruses, has given this song a different platform that it wouldn’t have had. It is like “Rhythm Is A Dancer” by Snap, which perfectly defines this notion of the groove, opposed to the catchy chorus. Like most songs of that caliber, from the 90s, it was about the sound, and we’ve seen it with songs like “Better Off Alone” by Alice DJ. Adding to the nuances of the 90s is an elongated opening that teases the listener before the drop. Its translation throughout the years in pop and electronic music is as dynamic as gun noises in hip-hop production.
However, underneath these luscious overtones are remnants of 80s synth-wave acts like Nena and John Carpenter. The vibrant synths carry their weight as we embark on this new sonic journey with The Weeknd, which continues to be as transcendent as the few instances on After Hours – “Save Your Tears” and “Too Late.” Like those songs, he grabs what he is given and elevates them to a higher ceiling, especially on the dance floor. I’ve never felt such passion within the confines of its BPM. It isn’t like the bold colors of the dance floors that once ravaged nightclubs during the 70s and 80s. What he does is transfix our muscles to groove to a smooth Michael Jackson-esque groove, and at the end of the day, that’s all we could ever want.
Assuming the album is similar to the sound of “Take My Breath,” it will be different than After Hours. The Weeknd’s fixation on lights, especially from the stark beauty of Sin City, were mood changers for the music that mixed the gutless partier and the emotional romantic. “Take My Breath” sparks the romantic inside, with temptation and passion fueling his desires. I, for one, cannot wait for the release of The Dawn as he drives home new sensations that come from the lights that shine on you.
Check Out “Take My Breath” wherever music is streaming or on YouTube.