Down Memory Lane: Get Rich Or Die Tryin’ 20 Years Later

Time is a fascinating concept. As I get older, memories I’ve thought have vanished quickly creep back up, and those moments of awe and an innate fascination come back. A few weeks ago, it hit me that Get Rich or Die Tryin’ is turning 20 on February 6, 2023, and I got hit with this memory of being at my cousin’s house. We were in his room, and he was showing me something brand new; he consistently gifted new systems and tech, but he strived to achieve greatness; it was his reward. I was focused on cartoons and exploring the creative side of sketching pictures, though with limitations living in a religious household. I remember this one time I drew a werewolf, and they believed something was wrong with me for a few minutes; I was around 7. However, I digress. My cousin was flexing this newly acquired album from his uncle, Get Rich or Die Tryin’, and we began bumping from start to finish. As a young white Latino, I was enthralled, shifting toward 50’s vicious swagger as he beautifully produces smooth flows, especially in the song “Wanksta.” From there, I knew my heart belonged to New York Hip-Hop, despite having universal love for Hip-Hop from all regions.

There was no denying my love for hip-hop was growing swiftly, especially with what my cousins from New York City introduced me to during my youth; however, something about 50 Cent’s debut had stood with me throughout my years. Was there a slight bias because he was signed and pushed by Eminem? Slightly, but on his own, 50 Cent had an identity, and it exhumes powerfully. That’s what hit a young Kevin, listening to the album, but more importantly, “Wanksta.” The beat was smooth, and the chorus was catchy; it made me push to avoid being a wanksta, but I kept changing with the trends as a teen, so I failed. My failure aside, I was never perturbed from listening to it, not even the G-Unit/Game beef, considering Get Rich or Die Tryin’ and The Documentary are some of my favorite rap albums. But unlike the cold, gritty Gangster Rap/G-Funk from The Game, 50 Cent brought a lot of swagger, and it reigned supreme. 

50 Cent’s swagger had an effervescent presence that came from songs like “High All the Time,” ‘Many Men (Death Wish),” “Bloodhound,” “Poor Lil Rich,” “P.I.M.P.,” “Like My Style,” and “Heat” made the content he’s rapping about more appealing to dissect. Whether violent or sensual, 50 Cent reflects on his life, never shying from the downs and allowing us to see how the mentality isn’t for everyone as the sound stays authentic to the musical direction. His lyrical prowess is a reason his music stayed on heavy rotation with my friends and me, listening to “Heat,” “Poor Lil Rich,” and “Many Men,” which was the commonly shared track appearing through our varying mixed CDs. “Many Men” is the true heart of the album. The visceral lyricism and direct coldness imbued by 50 Cent made this track killer. It was 50 boasting his status, literally and metaphorically; we hear him boasting how great he is while lambasting the shooters who couldn’t finish the job. 50 was supposed to release an album in 2000 titled Power of the Dollar – after his shooting, Columbia Records backed away from their deal. It adds depth to 50 Cent’s comeback, boasting the narrative that makes 50 seem tougher than expected. In retrospect, it adds layers to the other songs, as it boasts his near-death comeback narrative; he didn’t need it to have that coldness and swagger.

But now, 50 Cent is living, and through that, 50 breathes organically on every track while embroidering himself with lavish club-hip-hop and soulful down-tempo beats – apropos streetwise style of New York with creative overtures – and hardcore percussion-heavy beats containing drug noises. He’s creating gangster party tracks, emotional density as he speaks on love and survival, the hardships in slanging drugs, and boasting how hard he is, compared to most gangstas. 50 even has class as he casually name-drops Patti LaBelle as means of empowerment. The more radio-friendly singles, “In Da Club,” “If I Can’t,” “P.I.M.P.,” and “21 Questions,” established a foundation that never perturbed 50 from expressing his gangster alignments, like when he rapped: “Look homie, ain’t nothin’ changed: hoes down, G’s up/I see Xzibit in the cut, hey, nigga, roll that weed up! (Roll it!)/If you watch how I move, you’ll mistake me for a player or pimp.” He may be clubbing, but that doesn’t mean he lets his guard down with his enjoyment lyrically; he sees himself as top of the chain (“If I Can’t”), and that’s heard through his swagger and confidence. “21 Questions” gave us this tender look at 50 Cent breaking down and pondering his relationship through his incarnation, showing a sensitive side to a gangster. He isn’t a hollow person, and it lets him express a sense of vanity, a man who’s scared of loss – it gets reflected in “Gotta Make It To Heaven,” too. For “21 Questions,” we see it develop beautifully from start to finish, whether from the cadence in 50’s flow or the emotional depth instilled in the chorus. It’s stood the test of time as gangster’s love song that wasn’t overly hokey or derivative and instead more smooth and direct.

There’s no mystique to Get Rich or Die Tryin’; it eloquently (for Gangster Rap) tells us tales of survival, glamor, and success that sees 50 Cent describing the complex layers of a gangster (himself), specifically within his cultural ecosphere, aka the streets. It’s one smooth rollercoaster ride that boasts different elements between its lyrics and production; it flows with hunger as 50 Cent doesn’t let a moment come by with weak bars boasting the ferocity of his singles. It didn’t matter the content or style, whether “Many Men” or “In Da Club,” 50 came with the heat. It’s reminiscent of The Notorious B.I.G.’s lyrical strength–tenacity to keep the bars tight, no matter style with the singles getting released. For B.I.G. and Ready To Die, it went with the introspective smooth club banger, then the smooth braggadocio, and third the lyrical exercise that brings poignant depth with its themes of Death and Survival. It’s a loose comparison of the distribution of content. The main difference, 50 had more singles in the tank, all bolstered by incredible beats from Dr. Dre, Eminem, Mike Elizondo, Sha Money XL, Dirty Swift, Darrell “Digga” Branch, Mr. Porter, and Luis Resto. 

Dr. Dre, Eminem, and Sha Money XL have their hands on most of the album, but the beats from other producers, like Rockwilder, Megahertz, and Mr. Porter, who produce “Like My Style” and “Gotta Make It To Heaven” and “P.I.M.P.,” respectively. The beats have eclectic percussion patterns, and 50 Cent attacks them naturally, giving us some smooth and hardcore flows. Whether straight and narrow like what he and Tony Yayo spit in “Like My Style” or introspective with the violent, humanistic depth of “Gotta Make It To Heaven,” there’s an enduring storytelling strength, which adds more layers to his persona. The former has swagger-filled percussion that takes form underneath darkly glimmering keys and hi-hats, but the latter brings the funk, soul, and jazz elements to its streetwise drum beats, making it feel grander than it seems. “P.I.M.P.” has a bottle-popping flavor with its snappy keys that overlay luscious, smooth drum beats. It’s this bravado creating replayable momentum – I can’t help but keep finding myself latched to Get Rich or Die Tryin’ in my school days. And that goes for all the beats on Get Rich or Die Tryin’, which are an eclectic blend of hardcore New York Street style, which focuses more on the drums, while the singles bring in more electric strings to add some flare, some character. For example, “P.I.M.P.” and its hypnotic bass grooves and snappy keyboard notes, aka the gin to the juice that is the central drum pattern.

There’s a lot to this album where it sounds timeliness, and it’s one of the predominant reasons for its heavy rotation throughout my years; well, that and the New York bias, having grown up an hour outside Manhattan. It’s rich in style and poignant with its gangster narrative, allowing his listeners to feel and understand the complexities of his character despite being seen as this masculine leader. 50 Cent made something profound, and I’m forever thankful. It kept the resurgence in New York Hip-Hop flowing in the early 2000s, and its potency keeps it moving without a moment of pause. It’s a classic through and through; unfortunately, 50 Cent hasn’t matched this greatness since, but it remain with me for years to come.

YG’s Opus – Still Brazy: 5 Years Later

For many, It’s hard to distinguish an artist’s opus when many one-up the previous work at times – see The Black Album by Jay-Z in comparison to The Blueprint. But at times you see greatness amongst those who keep it close to 100 on their roots, improving on the music you grew with and recorded prior to making it, and elevating to a new level. For west coast rapper YG, it was Still Brazy, which was released five years ago. Still Brazy oozes West Coast Gangster Rap and G-Funk directed within a niche demographic, but universal to the overall love within the hip-hop community. However a lot of his forays into pop and more rounded universal hip-hop sounds have been extremely hit or miss for YG, all the while growing on the charts. And though it hasn’t been the ten-year mark, at five years Still Brazy makes a case for being a bona fide classic.

YG has charted high a fair amount, especially on tracks that incorporate or feature A-list musicians like Drake, Big Sean, and Jeremih, but unless YG is headlining it doesn’t always come across as authentic. YG has made the radio-track his way with the Jeezy and Rich Homie Quan featured, “My N*gga,” and the monstrous “Big Bank,” with Big Sean, Lil Wayne, and Nicki Minaj. These are standouts due to YG orchestration, unlike “Ride Out” from the Fast and Furious series and “Gucci On My” orchestrated by Mike Will Made It and co-featuring Migos and 21 Savage. Ironically, the third single of My Krazy Life, “Who Do You Love?” featuring Drake, didn’t peak high, peaking at 54 on the Hot 100, opposed to “My N*gga” at 19. It shows that star power doesn’t always equate like you’d expect.

However, since the release of Still Brazy YG has been on a minimalist decline with these unique directions he has taken post this album, but he has never shown a decline in his technical and lyrical abilities. Sometimes it feels as if he is trying to commercialize himself to a level by trying to find ways to incorporate artists that don’t mesh with his style and incorporating himself on pop songs like “I Don’t” with Mariah Carey and tracks with G-Eazy and Macklemore. And If I’m being frank, he has shown a lot of misses on the tracks he is featured on, like his basic verse on “Slide,” with H.E.R. What separates this from Still Brazy is the authenticity behind creating music attune to the style reminiscent of a golden age in the 90s.

That is what makes Still Brazy a phenomenal album. It was like this once and a lifetime album where instead of trying to eclipse pop-chart numbers and more, he found a happy medium where he could keep the authentic g-funk sound as a resonating base and elevate his range more on some of his subsequent albums. However, Still Brazy’s inherent focus on the funkadelic and gritty extravagance has made it one of the more unique gangster rap albums of the 2010s. It isn’t completely confined by trying to overlay pop-like and universal glamorization and instead keep it nuanced to the culture of the west coast. And In simple terms, it stays niche to sounds that are isolated to the culture of that area, like Spice-1 from the bay and the Geto Boys chopped and screwed style from Texas. But it’s usually when an artist sticks to being authentic, without a worry of trying to break through the radio waves.

Eventually a single off Still Brazy went on to have a moment in the limelight, without really charting. This track is the politically charged “FDT,” which stands for Fuck Donald Trump. It didn’t commercialize well and went off being a stand alone hit/anthem for four years as the United States suffered through four years of slightly imbecilic command. The monstrous noise it made and the anthem that grew from it only went up as he delivered a remix with G-Eazy and Macklemore together at the initial height of their popularity. It never really steered people toward the album and it suffered in creating hype outside the huge hip-hop community. It stinks because it seems like the general public who knows the song, may only know the words opposed to the rappers who deliver them. Coincidentally it is a bona fide g-funk/political hip-hop anthem, and a good amount of the music is a derivative of g-funk and west coast hip-hop.

This isn’t the album’s only foray into politically and socially charged tracks with it closing strong with tracks “Police Get Away With Murder,” and “Blacks & Browns.” The latter features LA Hispanic rapper SadBoy Loko delivering verses detailing daily discrimination and other occurrences that happen to both the African-American and Hispanic community, going deep from the black on black violence, police bias, and more. It’s finely tuned g-funk production oozes within the crevices of the verses and boosts this track attention grabbing prominence – ten fold.

Outside these tracks mentioned prior, others relate to the life that comes from his gang affiliations and creating complex pictures of the social dynamic that is rooted within the social history of Los Angeles. This gang affiliation has led to things going awry at times, one time of which, he documents on “Who Shot Me?” This track details his thoughts and paranoia after he was shot on his way out of a session at the studio. It breaks down his psyche as he tries to ponder who and why, relating back to relationships with people. Still Brazy doesn’t glorify a lifestyle and instead makes statements by painting a picture, however he does glorify a culture within certain aspects of LA in some of the singles and others in the track list. 

Uniquely the commercialization of Still Brazy is niche and thus has never been able to see a wide range of appeal. As an east coast writer, a lot of the music on hip-hop stations range from the hot commodity in melodic-trap rap and rappers primarily on our side of the coast. When I went to Los Angeles, on their hip-hop stations, they played Kendrick Lamar, Nipsey Hussle, and Anderson. Paak a bit more frequently. So tracks like “Twist My Fingaz,” didn’t have that wide range, but it’s production and infectious agro-fun dance energy makes it sound naturalistic to that culture. 

Further down the line, YG brings a dominating force on both spectrums as a feature in Lil Wayne. And what makes this track interesting is that YG took the opposite approach to what you’d expect. The production and the content of the song – lyrically and tonally – don’t go down the rabbit hole of a banger and instead they deliver a smooth bounce-funk centric track. “Why You Always Hatin’” takes a similar approach, despite being more commercial. It features Drake and Californian rapper Kamaiyah on a track that boasts their prominence and successes, while calling out critics and people who disregard their style and want different and profound pieces of work. 

He redefines a lot of these notions on the standout non-single “Bool, Balm, & Bollective.” He comes across with a nonchalant and chill demeanor about his life and his progression forward as he shrugs off the bullet wounds. His fresh approach makes his internal feeling of too hard to kill more refined and unlike many flex raps we hear today. If only it closed the album it would have been a beautiful crescendo on repurposing a lot of what was expressed. But the cultural consistency of the tracks on Still Brazy elevate this to new levels of nuance that other rappers grasp and make their own, and not many have that sound YG delivers without skipping a beat in authenticity.

Coloring Book At 5 – A Turning Point in Chance The Rapper’s Artistry

Coloring Book was a turning point for Chance the Rapper in many ways, but one aspect of it comes from the inconsistent quality of performances he has delivered as afterwards, as a featured artist and on parts of his follow-up The Big Day. He showed promise of bigger and more audacious pastures of amazing music, but his meteoric rise at this point fizzled in a quick minute, as the hype he was bringing for his follow-up didn’t have the same reaction as Coloring Book.

The idea of someone having one hell of a four year span and not continuing in peak form isn’t the most uncommon thing, but what Chance delivered after Coloring Book became a severe afterthought of rushed material without any sense of a widened direction of themes and production. So as it sneaks its way at the 5 year mark, you’re almost aghast from how much Chance has sort of changed in the overall blueprint he creates from; as well as wondering how his path went from Coloring Book to appearing on big pop features. But Coloring Book is more than just the music and its place in history, at what people thought was going to eventually be a music streaming war; it has charismatic and colorful flows and vibrant soulful-gospel hip-hop, unlike the projects he’s released before and after.

Chance has always been known for his broken down slow flows and his jubilantly cocky fun ones, but whenever he made certain – topical tracks or came on as a feature, the former flow style came across as hollow and less engaging than before. Many of these recent inconsistencies from Chance have derived from features on topical or trendy tracks made by others, like the boring and typical flex verse on “I’m the One” by DJ Khaled or the bland and mediocre flow on “Bad Idea” with Cordae.

These inconsistent performances have been a little more of a common trait of his post Coloring Book work. It’s almost as if only God or gospel related tracks breach his brain with enough inspiration to deliver good verses with better flows. Retroactively it starts to become more apparent how lackadaisical the verbiage in the verses can be. It doesn’t have that metaphoric and analogical virtuoso where it makes you want to go back and think about what you heard, as opposed to going back for the melodies – rhythmic structure – and production. And it doesn’t have as much impact.

However, some of us have known that Chance isn’t the most astounding lyricist, and most times he comes off as pedestrian. His direct approach to delivering his messages has always been masked by his colorful and vibrant flows over delicate soulful and jazz-gospel production; it makes you get lost in his music. That wasn’t the case on The Big Day, where the creativity stretched thin and he delivered these weird and janky flows and poor rhythmic patterns, though it wasn’t totally clad. This isn’t to discredit his work as a songwriter, as he has shown competency in his rhythmic structure and phrasing. Both #10Day and Acid Rap brought about something different as he dove deep into his subconscious with his own brand of drug-infused hip hop. And what he brought on Coloring Book was a complete 180 from those mixtapes, especially with the colorful flows that I will talk about below.

Similar to the opening to Kanye West’s The Life of Pablo, Coloring Book’s intro comes about with a concoction of soulful gospel performance, as a backing vocal layer and more, from Chicago’s Children Choir and Kanye West; along with exuberant verses detailing the strength deriving from the experiences throughout his life and inflecting that confident bravado flow.

Chance The Rapper came in with poise and confidence when the marketing for Coloring Book began. He knew in his mind this was going to be his big splash on the pop charts after a taste of the space in his early ascension in popularity. It may be why many, including myself, found the mixtape this beautiful cohesion of production, melodies, and flows, deriving from the growth he has had as an artist.

From the dark-like production in “Mixtape,” to a vibrant and jubilant “Angels,” and closing on a slow tempo dance track in “Juke Jam,” the way these tracks and others transition have shown a constant with ambitious flows; as well as the quality of flows from his featured artists who aren’t as “proven” like Young Thug, Lil Yatchy, and Noname, as opposed to 2 Chainz and Lil Wayne on “No Problem.” His flows on other tracks range from the rhythmically slow and emotional on “Blessings,” and the infectiously rejoicing on “Finish Line.”

There is “All Night,” which is a different take on his past cocky and poppy-fun flows that we’ve heard from past songs like “Good Ass Intro” and “Sunday Candy.” Beyond the many visceral flows, Coloring Book brought unique verses from the themes and concept behind the songs. Like on the aforementioned “Mixtape,” which has the artists breaking apart their feelings from the reaction and success deriving from mixtapes; even though they were just coming off the tail end of the heightened mixtape era (DatPiff).

Other themes range from faith and growing up southside of Chicago, amongst others. “Summer Friends,” for example, tells a metaphoric perspective about the truth he learned as a kid growing up, wherein friendships still have a chance of containing tragic ends. He attributes gang violence and drug addiction as a problem; specifically in the former, which heightens in the summer when school is out and sometimes an innocent life is gone because of it.

Chance’s flows have always been one of his two strong points, with the other being his ear for music. On Coloring Book these flows carry a lot of emotional and engaging weight, while other times it’s infectiously fun or distraught and heart broken. You listen and it hits you; track after track there is a lot of depth and sonic consistency that listening to most things on The Big Day, in a way, leaves you disheartened.

However, we remember Coloring Book as Chance The Rapper’s most profound work to date and a significant turning point in an aspect of his artistry, which has been a strong suit. It’s Chance at the peak of his apex, and we’ll be patiently waiting for him to deliver something from somewhere deeper in his heart and not from the corner of forced trendy styles and features.

Gnarls Barkley – St. Elsewhere: 15 Years Later and Still Crazy.

The superlative behind an album’s time since it’s initial release carries many distinct meanings, dependent on its importance at the time. So as we approach the 15-Year mark since the release of St. Elsewhere by duo Gnarls Barkley, I start to think how it hasn’t had a monumental presence beyond its monstrous first single, “Crazy.” The duo, consisting of rapper/singer Cee-Lo Green and producer Danger Mouse, were not heavy names in the stratosphere of music for many casual listeners because they didn’t breach into pop charts or delved into the common trend at the time. You could make the case that Danger Mouse had credibility before diving in upon release, as he did some production, including lead single “Clint Eastwood,” off the debut for the band Gorillaz. So as we revisit St. Elsewhere, let’s remember the phenomenal collection of poignant tracks with an effervescent array of eclectic production that didn’t garner as much attention as the perfectly crafted “Crazy.”

At the peak of their debut, along with the single “Crazy,” Gnarls Barkley wasn’t part of the bigger pop and R&B/Hip-Hop niche that circulated many radio stations. From Ciara, Chamillionaire, and Chingy to Natasha Bedingfield and Daniel Powter, if your music/sound didn’t have anything that resonated with a similar stylistic direction, you most likely wouldn’t breach further into the everyday Hot 100 listener – pre streaming. St. Elsewhere had its moment in the sun and took every advantage at this peak. And it did so with the track “Crazy,” which was an embodiment of their artistry. Though the album doesn’t have cohesion for simple accessibility (based on musical sensibilities), it did bring about a lush group of sounds that flows well with Cee-Lo’s vocal performances and Danger Mouse’s complex production.

The sonic infusions within the soul-like core were ahead of the time in its stylistic approach, which was less rooted in gospel than a traditional or pop-modern soul (like Ruben Studdard). It didn’t become a genre that expanded into experimenting with these different additions, consistently, until the last few years with a plethora of new artists switching the way it sounds. This is in conjunction with what – almost – every genre has been doing recently with our technological and mental growth. However, the varying use of synths and electronic sounds adds different aspects from the music of older soul-influences that influenced them. This sound is a hybrid of a psychedelic atmosphere with either soul or R&B undertones that were more prevalent in the late 60s and 70s, like the heavy bass lines and snares. 

This is heard within the final mixes of tracks, like “St. Elsewhere” and “Go-Go Gadget Gospel,” who, outside of their biggest hit “Crazy,” are embodiments of the sounds the rest of the tracks would take from and create a bigger world outside the music. But at the time, the singles that followed didn’t have much life on the American charts outside of “Crazy.” But including “Crazy,” a lot of their singles had a second life in Europe. “Crazy” shouldn’t surprise you because of the duality it has from being nuanced to older variations and experimental, which Europe fawns over without hesitation. The base – stylistic approach to the different production allowed it to find its way into the array of glossy playlist and stations from the way the surface layer of the tracks feeds its energy to you, specifically the less unique (loose term) ones, like “Necromancer.” You can hear the difference between the vibrance of “Crazy” and the twinkly grit of “Necromancer.”

Heavy piano notes that evoke the atmospheric textures, specifically in the expanded range of Cee-Lo’s naturalistic soulful voice, streamline the production on “Crazy.” This isn’t much different from the other soul-centric/alt-rock (esque) tracks, as well as the hip-hop oriented one. Cee-Lo’s control of his raspy baritone/tenor allows for an extra level of awe as we hear him go about these various subjects. This has been a natural strength, which has helped add more to his music during his Goodie Mob days and his solo career. It’s design from its lyrics and melodies makes it accessible for covers at different tempos. 

“Crazy” has this immense popularity and prominence in performance culture, but the fact that it never reached number #1 in the Hot 100 changed how it is seen – between being a blessing and a curse. It was the better – objectively speaking – track between the two other ones that were #1 at its peak, which was #2 for seven weeks. Outside of our own continent, it soared through Europe and reached momentous heights in the UK. A plethora of similar tracks like “Smiling Faces,” “Just A Thought,” and their cover of the Violent Femmes track, “Gone Daddy Gone,” didn’t find equal footing as “Crazy.” 

But the rest of the album has a constant within the production that comes from an eclectic mix of jazz and hip-hop percussion/horns and electronic instruments that circumvent the varying grooves into the slight uniqueness of it. Cee-Lo adds definition with his lustrous vocals, which has constant changes, depending on the kind of direction it wants to take, like the bombastic “Go Go Gadget Gospel,” and their remake of the Violent Femmes song “Gone Daddy Gone.” Both songs are as infectious, if not more than “Crazy,” but it does not get remembered as much because the music world was in an era where that kind rock bravado was more poignant in pop-punk and the semi-screamo punk, like Bullet For My Valentine and All American Rejects. So for this to break through with the beautifully contrasting “Who Cares?” would have been some kind of miracle. It all comes together with the instrumental undertones, like synth bass and the minimoog. 

These varying degrees of musical impacts left an impression on a younger me. The younger version of myself, who couldn’t figure out why radio hosts were deafening their ears with cheesy bubblegum/ballad pop and rock, when something beautifully different was there, waiting for someone to call them center stage. I remember falling in love with “Crazy” when it hit its initial run on the Z100, but when I purchased the album and gave it a listen, I began to admire the various electronic instruments, like the Roland JX-3P. But as you sit there, reading the amount of gush and praise I’m giving St. Elsewhere, the popularity on the internet is stagnant and maintains the SEO search popularity akin to “one hit wonders.” 

When it comes to searching the term, “Gnarls Barkley,” on YouTube, it delivers an onslaught of “Crazy” content. There are many covers and edited montages of award show performances of the song, but within the crevices the music videos for other songs from St. Elsewhere are there at an outdated 360/480 standard definition conversion. I’m out here expressing glee with the amount of love and notoriety “Crazy” and their other songs of equal quality. Even behind the guise that search engines have, the amount of expansive content on their work is put into these short perspectives with enough expressions of love and enjoyment. 

And now, 15-Years later, St. Elsewhere hasn’t seen the kind of appraisal it deserves. Hopefully I have been able to influence you to go and listen or revisit St. Elsewhere, a masterwork of soul, waiting for new listeners to hop on board the psychedelic train to Elsewhere. And keep their name alive as we graciously wait for the release of their third album, whenever that will be. 

Discovery – 20 Years Later: Elevation On The Dance Floor

Vibrant instrumentals that dive deep into the roots of music that once elevated the dance floor.

Grooves that never stop. And as much as you want it to stop, your hips keep it going. 

These are some of the many reasons we should always remember the dance floor that Discovery began to inhabit, with varying differences from styles and artists at the time.

From the bells tolling and bass lines on the synth-dominated “Aerodynamic,” to the funkadelic “Harder, Better, Faster,” made it more conventional for artists to dive deeper into their sonic roots. “Night Vision” delivers a melodic uptic in the robotic kinesis that made their image more profound. They incorporate a sample of the guitar riffs that embody 10cc’s “I’m Not In Love,” into this lowly embodiment of melodic themes in their music, which you can also hear further in decadent “Something About Us.”

Daft Punk bridged a divide that genres have been doing forever – like the shift from a dominant traditional pop – doo-wop hybrid to the more orchestrated and dynamic sounds of rock and roll. They created a bridge centered on the sensationalization in the production of disco/dance-club hits from Billy Ocean and Haddaway and the complexities of the synchronization within rock and roll, specifically from the new wave, pop/art rock and funkadelic areas to weave the sounds we hear on Discovery.

“One More Night,” bursts with disco flair as it evolves the bassline sample from the Eddie Johns track “More Spell On You.” And “Digital Love,” brings a soulful elevation with the sampled keys from George Duke’s “I Love You More.” There are varying samples that elevate the framework exponentially on the album that further down the line electronic music would find ways to make grandeur in their own way.

For Daft Punk, this brought an element of authenticity to their music. The live instrumentations brought some inner respect from the musicheads and loose cannons, while the disco and electronic sounds brought in the younger crowd nostalgic for a time they never lived in. The various instruments envelop the production’s essence in being different. 

This cohesion of sounds created, between the various samples and instrumentals, a hidden norm that allowed many electronic artists to bridge their own gap in pop trends by working with popular artists, both globally and nationally within the United States. This made it easier for the genre to create their own hybrids and start new trends that effervescently grow, like dubstep and folktronica to name a few. A lot of the electronic music in the new age has shifted in many directions and allowing new sounds to be discovered, like the glitch-hop electronic sound of the artist Machinedrum.

Upon the time of Discovery music wasn’t that far off from still the being nostalgic of disco era. A lot of pop records would use isolated sounds and styles to influence the bigger stage. But for most it was less funkadelic and more synth, percussion, and vocal heavy, the latter of which is the reason we get simple lines stuck in our head. So the way Daft Punk shifted some the conventions of the music’s height into new sounds that elevated dance floors globally.

This was Daft Punk’s main contribution in Discovery to the ever growing genre in the US, along with music from artists like Fatboy Slim and The Chemical Brothers, whose big beat sounds has some resonance of the boom-bap percussion of hip-hop and the electronic sounds weaving them into a strong universal club song that can be played almost anywhere. 

So while other artists, like Four Tet, evoked more dialogue in the live jazz and R&B overtones and undertones, they were not dominant names in the club scene in the United States. If you’re walking through Europe in 90s, you’d find people who would know the greatness of artists like Jaydee and Basement Jaxx, while the US you’d find the more vocal-centric work as people are more likely to remember a catchy vocal flow than intricate instrumentations of 1993’s Plastic Dreams by Dutch DJ Jaydee and the 1999 album Remedy by Basement Jaxx.

The thing was that a lot of the electric music that crossed bridges here were not like the aforementioned artists, with some of the more popular club songs being like ATC’s (A Touch of Class) “All Around The World (La La La)” or Eiffel 65’s “Blue.” Eurodance was already a hot commodity here that it was easy to pass those barriers with their simple – electric sounds. This pop standing eventually got the boost from American pop stars like Madonna and Cher, who had two monstrous albums at the end of the 90s, especially Cher and her notable club hit “Believe.”

Allowing them to slowly introduce American audiences to the kind of sounds to expect from these artists from across the sea. We are so mental about having something (in music) that we can repeat vocally that it allows for a melody to stick with instrumentals in our head. But when it is just the instrumentals can make it harder from the detailed layers.

Discovery did not shy away from this and they effectively weaved it into songs “Digital Love,” and “Superhero,” they let the instrumental patterns create that catchy musical memory. The vocals they added on these tracks are finely tuned to with high-pitch distorted vocalizations, that sound more natural the ways artists mostly used autotune on their records.

These stacking sonic elements of Discovery brought about a variety of influential trends in many genres we see today, and specifically the pop genre. They adapted main archetypes of disco into a unique hybrid that sound modern, but at the same time able to camouflage if you were to play it in 1976.

At the end of the day, Discovery can simply be described as one of the most accessible and inspirational albums of the genre that cemented a name for the two robots. It brought new ears to a popular genre in Europe that weren’t glued to cheesy pop overtures and instead let the synths and bass take you away through the colorful dance floor. It is by no means a perfect album either. It’s hard for an album to be objectively perfect, but there is beauty behind the imperfections.

The Digital Love playlist is a culmination of some amazing electronic music, new and old, for you to sink your mind and ears into.

The Fugees – The Score: 25 Years Later

It has been thirteen years since the first time my thumb hit play on an iPod classic and the iconic hip-hop album The Score by The Fugees began to play. This debut by New Jersey trio Lauryn Hill, Wyclef Jean, and Pras Michael was unlike most hip-hop at the time. The predominant sound for hip hop at the time was heavily contrasting between jazz/G-Funk/boom bap sounds. Hip-Hop, at the time, was becoming over-reliant on the complex percussion patterns and soulful pianos, enveloped by themes of success, violence, and the grandeur scheme of life. This sub genre of hip-hop known as gangsta rap was about to overtake the radio waves and caused strife in politics because of the influential nature behind the lyricism at times groovy and charismatic delivery. It grew from the west and the east tried to distinguish by using the word mafioso in relation to the predominant mob culture in NYC. But as The Score turns 25, there was a lot to remember about the time of its release and the amalgamation of its contextual socio-political undertones and unique production that made it one of the best albums of the 90s.

In the 90s, artists like Tupac, The Notorious BIG, Big Pun, Mobb Deep, and Snoop Dogg (to name a few), were gaining momentum, while other artists were trying to make way with the sounds that made them, them. There were artists like Jurassic 5 and De La Soul, who never grew to be worldly recognized, but The Score was unlike the projects released by artists like them at the time. This was due to the focused nature of sampledelia, conscious lyricism, and rhythmic patterns. They carried their own similarities with these rappers, like anti-police, but they weren’t as threatening as rappers like Ice-T, who made a song called “Cop Killer,” under his band Body Count.

The other themes always relate to this certain heroism refugees and immigrants bring to infuse themselves energetically into the system and play by the rules. But the “white Americans” of the United States was never adamant about seeing the equality. It was like they were huge in beyond the hip-hop barrier. They speak to those with minimal voice, but all the while the topics they talked about were big social-political concerns here.

The thing is, Hip-Hop was and still is seen by the many as this “evil” music that influenced negativity in escalating crime rates. It would be used as evidence to make an example of artists who retroactively rapped about the context in their rhymes.

For example – rapper Mac Phipps, who was signed to Master P’s label – No Limit. The prosecution used his rap lyrics to portray a lifestyle to further incriminate him in a club shooting where he was performing that night.

There was and still is this misconception of the understanding behind the notion that his and the others music was representative of the life seen in front of them. They perpetuate the stories to show the aggressive discern for people never having a level of equality other communities have. They in turn create this illustrious lyrics that make them out to be these mythological speakers for the people, which they would use. They’d still represent anti-system in their own way.

“I refugee from Guantanamo Bay

Dance around the border like I’m Cassius Clay (Yes, sir)”

Ready or Not (Pras Michael)

The Score represented more than a sense of unity from the listeners, it represented themes and ideas that are simple, but made complex by the lyrics. “Family Business,” for example, tells us the importance of family. It could be best explained by the Fast & Furious movies and the stuff Vin Diesel goes the lengths for, for his family. But I digress.

The Score builds upon this (and more) and constructs bombastic tales that plays like the soundtrack to a film yet to be filmed that empowered minorities and refugees. The Fugees (Lauryn, Wyclef, and Pras) bring different elements to the album, all of which resonate with the sounds they grew up with. These sounds include, but are not limited to neo-soul, reggae/Caribbean, and old school jazz hip-hop. They made the music of their people more prevalent today with these instrumentations.

You can hear it within the instrumentation/production by the three along with co-collaborators, John Forté and Salaam Remi to name a few. The lead single, “Ready or Not,” brings in a culmination of soul and jazz undertones from subtle string instrumentation within the slow clap-like percussion (like the most of the percussion on the album). Like other rappers at the time, the sample-craze was due to finding new waves to make airwaves. Biggie’s “Juicy,” was not the kind of single that the B-Side “Warning,” off another soulful single “Big Poppa,” had. It was dark, violent, and twisted tale about life during the hustle.

“The Mask,” brings the three backgrounds together with the jazz-horn and bass undertones, hip-hop centric percussion, and a soul influenced chorus. And then there is “Zealots,” that bombasts their doo-wop sample from The Flamingos throughout the instrumental add levity to the subject matter, which is them during their own nerdgasms. All the way keeping in conjunction with the sound and style representative of the first song recorded for the album, “Fu-Gee-La.”

Having these musical connections within the instrumental would eventually reach a bigger audience because familiar sounds enact the endorphins in our brain and groove. All the while keeping the percussion simple enough that The Fugees could enunciate with bravado.

But apart from the individualized sonic influences, the sequencing of the lyricism/verses on The Score shares the center stage with the production. And not entirely because of what they rapped about, but the distinguishing flows and energy they bring. Biggie was commandeering, these three were confident and at times sincere. Their flows were the polish to the constructs of the vehicle that was The Fugees.

Lauryn Hill, amongst others, changed the individual nuances of female rappers from the aggressive violence of west coast artists like Lady of Rage to the aggressive sexual nature and violence (of course) of east coast artists like Lil Kim. She stood out as her own person delivering on-color soulful and progressive lyricism and multi-syllabic bars, which elongated certain pentameters of the flow.

Wyclef brought vibrant energy and paint (since he created picture with his words). And Pras brought a unique take to the meaning behind “the cherry on top.” As a closer, Pras Michael’s slight calm flow made the enunciation of the words crisper, allowing them to marinate, like the intricate metaphors at the end of “The Beast.” Pras raps about the differentiating levels of power and showing how police officers handle arrests or searches with a Black American, giving a different perspective from Lauryn whose angle is reflective of gender and race (mostly race).

“High class get bypassed while my ass gets harassed (Bang)

And the fuzz treat bruhs like they manhood never was”

The Beast (Lauryn Hill)

Wyclef Jean is one of the champions of the refugees he speaks of, implementing them into these connotations of success and survival like on “Fu-Gee-La,” where a scene is painted about the latter.

“What’s goin’ on? Armageddon come you know we soon done

Gun by my side just in case I gotta rump

A boy on the side of Babylon

Tryin’ to front like you’re down with Mount Zion”

Fu-Gee-La (Wyclef Jean)

But this track further expressed this championship, by correlating themselves with refugees. The huge platform this track was given gave them the voice to feel like they have a chance and people like them has many options. Though it was more than just the words and the music, it was the kind of people they represented, especially Wyclef’s background and Pras strong understanding and diction.

“It’s the way that we rock when we’re doin’ our thing

Ooh, la-la-la

It’s the natural la that the Refugees bring”

Fu-Gee-La (Lauryn Hill)

Other rappers have brought their own perspectives to similar themes, but the instrumentals were bouncy and groovy and others weaved dark tones into the complex gritty percussion and string instrumentations. These made the sound come off as more important than the context of lyrics. Many artists were able to mend the two together and create their own style, like Jay-Z’s Reasonable Doubt, but The Score was one of the best albums to implement it well.

So as we sit back and remember the 25 years of existence The Score has had in our world, lets never forget the influence their music with the multi-dimensional messages in threw in our ears and brain.