Five reasons why Frank Ocean’s ‘Blond(e)’ album became his own mystical masterpiece

Frank Ocean’s ‘Blond(e)’ album isn’t even a year old, yet already it has knocked down a number of cultural and musical barriers, from soulful soundwaves to homosexual honesty and embrace. It sailed gloriously to the top of my albums of the year list for 2016 with the reason being quite painstakingly obvious. It is the work of a sheer genius and the fact it hasn’t been universally acknowledged as such truly saddens me. Even the title is a piece of art as he balances both the masculine and feminine spelling of the word ‘Blond(e)’ to show both sides (exactly like he says on new track ‘Chanel’). Here are five reasons as to why Frank Ocean hit a home run with his long-awaited ‘Channel Orange’ follow up and why ‘Blond(e) should be respected as one of the greatest albums this generation has seen.

 

1. It is already hailed as an LGBTQ+ celebration album.

We all remember that Tumblr post. In 2012 Frank Ocean announced to the world that as a 19 year old he fell in love with a man, sharing a summer of joy with his sweetheart. The open nature of Frank was embraced by all in the music community and he captured all of these emotions on ‘Blond(e)’. He has created an album in which people can feel comfortable and confident in their own skin, he has given everyone the confidence to live their own lives to their maximum potentials, irregardless of race, religion, gender or sexual orientation.

2. It is the ultimate barrier breaker of an album.

Sonically you’ll do well to find an album which captures the concept it intends to follow better than ‘Blond(e)’ does. The space-age tint of ‘Nikes’ and ‘Nights’ compliments the low-fi smoothness of ‘Godspeed’ and ‘Good Guy’ to create a masterpiece which is truly impossible to tie down to a specific genre. Taking a simple glance at the sampling and production credits of this album tells you all you need to know about the project’s diversity, with the likes of Kendrick Lamar and Andre 3000 adding hip-hop flavours while David Bowie and even The Beatles has Frank dip his toes into the murky waters of British icons. Name another album which has the king of hip-hop and the kings of rock music on the same project. I’ll wait.

3. It is Frank’s coming of age and maturity.

Frank Ocean used Blond to display a huge step in his career, from the kooky innocence of Odd Future to the serious anticipation of a musical role model. When ‘Nostalgia, Ultra’ was followed by ‘Channel Orange’ it appeared as though Frank would be a great R&B artist who spoke on love and passion, somewhat surface level emotions. What came from ‘Blond(e)’ was a triumphant rise through the ashes as Frank followed on from his previous projects with the raw emotion of love and then moved beyond that to greater issues. The likes of race, homosexuality, depression and cultural acceptance have been challenged here and helped it become an instant classic.

4. It ranks very highly in just about ever publication’s albums of the year list.

It may not come as a surprise to most, seeing as it was the most eagerly anticipated album of the year along with Kanye’s ‘The Life Of Pablo’, that ‘Blonde’ was a high scorer amongst many critics. It eventually ended up ranking in just about every top 10 imaginable, from NME (10th) to Rolling Stone (5th). The fact that such a wide variety of publications placed it in the top 10 suggests that no matter the genre of expertise, the raw talent of Frank Ocean shines through on this album and there’s no possible way you can deny it’s brilliance. I ranked it at number one and even that didn’t feel like enough gratification for the album’s mastery.

5. It places Frank upon the very pinnacle of artistry esteem.

This album showed every single one of us that Frank Ocean has a gift, it added a silk touch beauty to his discography and crystallised what we already knew about his sensual and stunning vocal delivery. Taking influence from the likes of Prince and Michael Jackson before him, Frank took it to the barebones of his musical ability; ditching the pop sounds of 2012’s ‘Channel Orange’ and instead laying himself bare with a skeletal stripped back project which is as mesmerising as it is haunting. The album appears sketchy and all over the place upon the surface, but it provides layers the more you listen to it, a well-drawn out affair of heartache and denial which will, in my opinion at least, weigh up alongside some of the all time great singer-songwriter projects. After all, Frank is the best of the lot in this generation when it comes to being a solo singer/songwriter, we now have the documents on record to prove it.

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One Love Manchester: Music is there to once again restore humanity’s faith

On the 22nd May, the world was sent into a state of disarray and devastation when a terrorist attack was committed at the Manchester Evening News (MEN) Arena during an Ariana Grande live show. 22 people were confirmed to have died at the event and it was a moment which truly shook not only the music world but us all. In response to this inexcusable act from that jumped up coward, Manchester and Ariana Grande responded in the way only they know; the joining of love and music together as one. A special event known as ‘One Love Manchester’ was scheduled for Sunday 4th June and the line up was colossal.

I could go on all day about who was there and how they sounded on this astonishing night, but that takes away from the true importance of the event and how special it was to witness. Ariana Grande deserves all the praise in the world for this, she has shown a bravery and maturity way beyond her 23 years and has instantly become a worldwide role model to not just music fans, but fans of life too. She managed to rally together some of music’s biggest names and even got Manc hero Liam Gallagher to fly back from Germany and perform on the same night. As well as this he even agreed to sing on stage with Coldplay’s Chris Martin, a man he has had a public rivalry with in the past, referring to him as a “geography teacher”. Basically she should be in the foreign office with negotiation skills like hers.

If you weren’t fighting back the tears when Ariana returned to the stage at the end to perform a powerful and moving rendition of her hit ‘One Last Time’, the final song she managed to perform before the attack took place on the night of the tragedy, then I question the warmth of your heart and compassion. As she soldiered on through floods of tears she was joined on stage by all the show’s stars and was joined vocally by the adoring and admiring crowd, making the song that much more poignant and special. Earlier in that night the Black Eyed Peas performed their 2002 hit ‘Where Is The Love?’ with many asking why the words to that emotional song are so true and up to date even now, questioning the progress we have made as compassionate human beings.

The whole event managed to raise a staggering £9m for the victims of the tragedy and above all it created a mesmerising sense of passion and emotion amongst all involved, from the superstar names of Bieber and Gallagher, to the everyday fans who witnessed devastation with their very eyes on that hallowed night at the MEN. It has given us all a fresh lease of life and made us realise that no matter how many bad people there are in this world, love conquers all and music is the greatest art of all for that notion.

XXXTENTACION: Hip-Hop’s newest Supervillain?

Over the years the hip-hop genre has seen it’s fair share of so-called ‘villains of the game’ who are set to change music as we know it in the most controversial possible way. Previously we had the likes Eminem and Tyler, The Creator testing the limits of political correctness with their lyrics and their approach, but now we have a new loveable rogue to look out for. Jahseh Dwayne Onfroy is better known by the stage name ‘XXXTENTACION’, which translates to ‘Unknown Temptation’, and the movements he has made in the hip-hop genre in just a small amount of time is nothing short of astronomical for someone his age. At just 19 years old, he has become one of the most popular SoundCloud artists around and even has a single which placed in the Billboard Hot 100 chart. What is even more shocking about these facts? All of this was done while being in prison, no possibility of advertisement available to him. A remarkable feat really when you think about it, and it only points to the direction he will be going in the near future.

XXXTENTACION (We will now just refer to him as ‘X’) has three projects prepared for this year, all in order to keep his hype justified and relevant and to see how far his current stream of popularity can take him. His debut studio album ‘Bad Vibes Forever’ is on it’s way to us soon and he is also working on mixtapes titled ‘I Need Jesus’ and ‘Revenge’ along with the ‘Members Only, Vol. 3’ mixtape with regular collaborator Ski Mask the Slump God. Why should we be excited for these I hear you say? Well, when asked to talk about some of his biggest musical inspirations, his answer was far from expected; stating that he listened to music as varied as the hip-hop roots of Young Money (Drake, Nicki Minaj, Lil Wayne) to rock and metal vibes coming from the likes of Papa Roach, genuinely. He has also claimed that he would love to collaborate with The Fray in the future, yes that is the band that did ‘How To Save A Life’ by the way. A truly intriguing figure who’s musical influences and inspirations are as varied as you’ll ever hear.

He has only just been released from prison after a collection of offences toppled over him, including assault with a deadly weapon and robbery. When awaiting bail, X was then arrested on further allegations of witness tampering and aggravated battery of a pregnant woman, accusations that he strongly rejects and claims are false. His die-hard fan base have ceased to let that tamper their views on X as an artist and in fact look at it as his avenue to emotion in music. This is where the idea of him being a super-villain comes into play. In a recent interview X was quoted to say that he wants the world to hate him as it only fuels his ambition to succeed. So far so good as he is now a red-hot favourite to be the poster boy of XXL’s 2017 Freshman List alongside some huge names of the past 12 months, including Playboi Carti, Ugly God and NAV.

So what do you think? With 100s of millions of plays to his name on Soundcloud and a new wave of adoring fans thanks to his cross-genre talent, can XXXTENTACION become a superstar in the hip-hop genre or will his image come back to haunt him in the long run? Either way, his beef with Drake and the promise of more disses on the way the future is tantalising on X’s quest to the top of the music industry.

Soundcloud link: https://soundcloud.com/jahseh-onfroy

Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp A Butterfly: 2 years later

Has it really been two years already? 730 days since the most culturally important album of this generation was released and it was one which propelled Compton rapper Kendrick Lamar to levels that are beyond that of rap music, beyond the realm of Spotify streams and album sales. 2015’s ‘To Pimp A Butterfly’ was a project that moved people and raised his profile and standing to Mandela level, this era’s Muhammad Ali, Michael Jackson or Maya Angelou of the black community, a true prophet of his times. But what made this album so unequivocally stunning? So groundbreaking and culture defying? Well there’s a million and one reasons for this album to be admired and this is my take on what I see from a near flawless body of work from hip-hop’s prodigal son.

Kendrick went fairly quiet after the success of his modern classic  album ‘good kid, m.A.A.d city’ in October of 2012, he had said his piece on the rough streets of Compton, California and felt his voice had been heard adequately enough. With that being said, a shocking Grammy’s defeat to Macklemore & Ryan Lewis for ‘Rap Album of the Year’ proved that Kendrick had to go beyond regular greatness to prove himself to the higher powers. With GKMC being a more understated and personal album, it was obvious what was required from K-Dot for him to be a true legend of the game; he needed to produce an album of the highest order. Outlandish production, raw and memorable to the last detail. In a 2014 interview with Billboard, he seemed to be on his way:

 “Just putting the word ‘pimp’ next to ‘butterfly’… It’s a trip. That’s something that will be a phrase forever. It’ll be taught in college courses—I truly believe that.”

So we had a title. It was to be called ‘To Pimp A Butterfly’. But why? Well it was originally scheduled to be called ‘To Pimp A Caterpillar’ as it abbreviated to Tu-P-A-C, Kendrick’s idol and role model. But the Caterpillar became ‘Butterfly’ because, as Kendrick himself states in an MTV interview:

“Me changing it to Butterfly, I just really wanted to show the brightness of life and the word ‘pimp’ has so much aggression and that represents several things. For me, it represents using my celebrity for good. Another reason is, not being pimped by the industry through my celebrity.”

The album finally arrived at our doors on the 15th March 2015 and from the very first moment, we all knew we were in for something special. With elements varying from conscious rap to jazz to the avant-garde, it was evident to us all that the album was all we could have hoped for an much more. Politically charged, ambitious and unapologetic from the first track to the very last.

The album starts with “Wesley’s Theory” featuring George Clinton and it is the first of a bulk of appearances from masterful producers Flying Lotus and Thundercat. It begins with a brilliant piece of sampling in which we hear the words of Jamaican singer Boris Gardiner as he sings “every n***a is a star” before an explosive mix of Kendrick, Clinton and Thundercat creates a swaying finger snapper of a beat. Kendrick is electric on it and, as you will see later too, does a great job with the variety he can add to his voice and the characters this can create. Mentions of Uncle Sam show the underlying racism in America, with Sam himself being a man who condones outrageous spending of taxpayers’ money. The “I know your kind” line seems to be said from the perspective of Uncle Sam as he looks down on the African-American community, something Kendrick tries to fight here.

We then slide into “For Free? (Interlude)” which has a simply brilliant piece of production by Terrace Martin, as he gives us a taste of jazz and funk from the 70s in a modern hip-hop style. This song is quite simply genius once you dive into it. On the surface it seems like a satirical piece of rap music and a cheeky little interlude to set us up for the next track. In actual fact it is a deep and meaningful view on the way many people, particularly women, view black rappers. The intro part of the song is based on a girl telling Kendrick that he will never make it as big as he wants to in regards to being a successful black man, with the likes of Kobe Bryant being the benchmark in the eyes of this girl. She describes herself as a “good girl” when in actual fact she is just trying to twist words and make Kendrick give in to her manipulative ways. What she doesn’t realise is that Kendrick isn’t just a normal man, his response is simply golden as he tells her “this dick ain’t free”, referring to the previous track and telling us that he refuses to conform to middle America’s demands of the black community. His flow on this track makes it all the more special to as he seems like he will never stop with his reasoning to this girl as to why he is the king, it’s just majestic.

“King Kunta” was the album’s third single and was released just over a week after the album’s release and it is plain to see why this track had such a buzz around it. It was named as one of the best songs of the year by numerous publications, including the likes of Pitchfork and Rolling Stone. The track itself is based on the rebellious slave Kunta Kinte from Alex Haley’s novel “Roots: The Saga of an American Family” and the story Kendrick tells places Kunta Kinte as somewhat of a king to the black community given his empowering tale and his strong beliefs. It does also spin back to Kendrick’s own personal upbringing from the hood to the biggest name in hip-hop. The hook gives us one of the best oxymorons in the history of music in that Kendrick feels oppressed like a slave but dominant like a king in the sense that he is a black man in America who became successful. It is a wonderfully catchy track with a deep-lying tone of arrogance and frustration, the sampling of Ahmad’s “We want the funk” just makes this song even better too thanks to the groovy vibes it brings. This is also the first track on the album in which the infamous poem begins, simply stating: “I remember you was conflicted, misusing your influence” leaving us so intrigued as to what he might have up his sleeve.

“Institutionalized” calls upon the help of Bilal, Anna Wise and legendary California rapper Snoop Dogg, perhaps the most high profile feature on the whole album. In the track, Kendrick covers the topic of wealth and all the corruptive power it can bring, mainly focusing on the negative connotations of his new found fame. He ridicules the idea of modern society’s obsession with being rich, perhaps even implying that we as a society have been brainwashed by it. The term itself in which the song is named after creates a whole new wave of insinuation as we are then made to look at the idea of violence and race, as well as the possibility of insanity and obsession. Anna Wise and Bilal do a fantastic job on the interlude section of this track as they give us Kendrick’s perception of his current situation and what he would do if he were the US President. “Master, take the chains off me” is a line which has so many underlying meanings, from slavery to religion to political dictatorship, in this sense it would appear that Kendrick is looking to God for guidance and to help deliver him from the temptations of evil (more on that later). Up steps one of the greatest beat changes I have ever heard and we are then introduced to Kendrick who once more flows his way through the track impeccably before a damning verdict in the hook, courtesy of Bilal once again. Portrayed through the voice of Kendrick’s grandmother, the warning is placed upon Kendrick that nothing will ever change for the better unless he cleans up his act of street violence (GKMC days). Snoop pays great homage to California on this song with his bridge and gives a new flavour to this layered masterpiece.

“These Walls” was the fifth track on the album as well as the fifth single to be released from it. Thanks to the help once again of Bilal, Anna Wise and Thundercat this song becomes a smooth soulful jam forever more. The “walls” that Kendrick is talking about can be taken in the literal sense of perhaps a hotel wall and what can be heard while Kendrick is with a girl, or maybe seen as the walls of his conscience. This has purposely been left open for interpretation but the song mainly follows the route of Kendrick having sex with a girl who’s man is in jail for killing one of Kendrick’s friends, therefore gaining revenge for the murder. The walls of his mind come into play as he ponders the legitimacy and morals of using his fame to seduce a woman simply for the purpose of revenge. As a whole it would appear that the “walls” are in fact representative of life, you’ll never escape the walls of existence and freedom and there will always be something holding you back. The third verse directly addresses the man who murdered his friend, following on from the theme of his previous album “good kid, m.A.A.d. city’. The bitterness in Kendrick’s voice tells us all we need to know about how he truly feels about this man and how he has no remorse in his action or any shred of sympathy and sorrow for the man in question. The poem continues and is then starting to unravel and make more sense, becoming a key element in the album’s subject matter.

“u” is a complete and utter stark contrast to the album’s lead single “i” thanks to the desolate and slow production. This song shows Kendrick looking towards his negative thoughts that have tarnished his mind for years, attempting to challenge them and crush any possible doubt from his conscience. In the breakdown of the track he did with MTV, Kendrick stated that it was “one of the hardest songs I had to write. There’s some very dark moments in there.” He then went on to say that “anybody reading or listening who may be asking these questions of themselves, just remember from ‘u’, you will eventually reach ‘i'”. You can feel the true emotion that goes into this track, not least from the alcoholic character Kendrick creates in the second verse, seemingly hitting rock bottom and slurring his words to show his levels of intoxication. As opposed to what we usually see from Kendrick, it is a more sombre and depressing tone as he battles his sadness and guilt rather than the aggressive and powerful tones he would usually lean towards. The gulps and glass clinging brings you into his world and it is a world he has discussed before with hits such as “Swimming Pools (Drank)”where he opens up about the traumas of alcoholism. A stroke of absolute mastery here and it really is the touch of an artist.

“Alright” is the multi-Grammy winning single from this album which features legendary producer Pharrell Williams on the hook and beat. Following “u” with this gives you the idea of light at the end of the tunnel, hope when it never seemed possible. The track acknowledges just how difficult it will be to reach that high but it also tells the world that it is always a possibility. It is somewhat of an escape plan from his previous troubles as he maps out what he will do to be rid of his demons and prosper in his life the way he has always dreamed of doing. The track soon became an anthem of solidarity amongst the black community, with many ‘Black Lives Matter’ activists chanting the hook on their marches as they mourned the losses of lives through unjust police brutality. The acceptance of his troubles and the knowledge that not only things would get better, but also that things were meant to be and happened for a reason, is a major staple of this song as a whole and something Kendrick rides with at the end of the track. It isn’t difficult to see why there was so much buzz around this song and ultimately why it won Best Rap Song as well as Best Rap Performance at the Grammy Awards.

“For Sale? (Interlude)” is this album’s introduction to the character of ‘Lucy’ who is representing the devil, Lucifer. Initially, you can be fooled into believing that Lucy is in fact a girl that Kendrick is telling us about in a spiritual and anecdotal way, when in actual fact we recognise who Lucy actually is as the song progresses through it’s phases. With this as the second interlude and having it titled the way it is shows such a smart piece of wordplay and structure from Kendrick as both interludes relate to his demons and how he feels he is valued as an artist. This artist value soon develops into his value as simply a human being and whether or not he is doing what he feels is best for himself. In “For Free?” he laughs off and criticises the idea of rappers being flashy with money and the fact that it is almost a requirement of a modern day artist, whereas on this track he juxtaposes this idea and brags about his financial wealth, linking it to the money he has received from signing a record deal. Lucy is selling him all of these ideas and temptations much like the devil did with Jesus in the bible, but much like Christ, he is aware of the illegitimacy of Lucy and the lies the devil tells.

On the next track, “Momma”, producer Knxledge demonstrates an absolute masterclass in beat making as he gives Kendrick such a slick, funky jam to vibe with and flow over. The track itself is about his resistance to temptation in the previous track and the internal struggle that was given to him by ‘Lucy’. His constant theme of returning home can mean a number of things, including the literal sense of going back to Compton to see his “momma” and tell his story, or it could mean that he goes back to his motherland of Africa. Both are increasingly likely and it is fairly plausible that he means both as it has been documented that his 2014 journey to South Africa inspired much of this album, in verse 3 he mentions meeting a young boy who shared some of his features and “hand me down sneakers” so it could perhaps be the motherland journey he is on about here. This is definitely one of the smoothest and coolest tracks on the album and it is one I never fail to enjoy.

“Hood Politics” is the next in the series of the blissful Kendrick/Thundercat combination and this is one of the best of them all. Within the poem which has been ongoing we now reach the part where Kendrick was talking about “survivor’s guilt” and this is exactly what this song is about. A trip back to his days as a young teen/adolescent and the fact that he wasn’t as wise as he is now, and how he wishes he could have been as it would’ve kept him out of a lot of trouble. The vocal delivery on this song seems a bit more childish and higher pitched to perhaps flash back to his younger days and how they have shaped who he is. This song also has a tendency to be politically-fuelled, particularly in the second verse where he name drops Congress in the same breath as Compton, suggesting that they aren’t too dissimilar. I also adore the Killer Mike mention as he argues the case of hip-hop fans  and critics who claim to miss the older times of hip-hop when rappers were hardcore rap, before Kendrick shuts them down and reminds them that a certain Killer Mike exists and goes under every radar possible. Glorious.

“How Much A Dollar Cost” was the track which confirmed in my head the genius of this album and Kendrick Lamar. A quite jaw-dropping anecdote about a confrontation with a homeless man in South Africa who reminds him of his greed, the song challenges just about every initial perception you would have of a homeless man. The revelation of this homeless man actually being God and telling Kendrick that his greed will cost him a spot in heaven is reminiscent of the parable of “The Sheep and the Goat” from Matthew 25 of the Bible. James Fauntleroy’s hook is beautiful and comes from the perspective of God, as you can tell from the holy rise in the production as it comes about; he claims that water, sun, love and air is all you need for nourishment. Kendrick then goes on to accept his flaws and beg for forgiveness as you see a truly defining chapter in Kendrick’s life unravel right before your eyes. Barack Obama named this his favourite song of 2015 so if that isn’t reason for you to love it then I don’t know what is.

We are treated to more Thundercat greatness on the next track, titled “Complexion (A Zulu Love)” as his sexy attitude filled beat is met with soulful horns and the tapping toes of every single person listening to it. The song is fairly self-explanatory at surface level, as the hook would describe the song tells us that skin colour makes no difference to a human being and colorism shouldn’t be a thing. Kendrick has hailed this up mainly because the black community are those that suffer most from this form of prejudice and discrimination, mainly coming from the roots of slavery across the globe. It is a really feel-good track all about this feeling of one love for all, no matter how you look. The feature of female rapper Rapsody adds a brilliant dimension to the end of this track and it is so good that XXL named it as one of the 15 best rap verses of 2015.

“The Blacker The Berry” is one of the biggest statements possible for a black artist aiming to grab the attention of those ignoring the racism around them, it starts with a bang and only gets more violent the further it goes. The introduction monologue states that due to how middle America is, the black community aren’t allowed to stand for what they believe in, suggesting that they are instead having their decisions made for them. He acknowledges how people will feel about this song in the bridge by stating that “they may say I suffer from schizophrenia or somethin'” before telling us that he’s the “biggest hypocrite of 2015” in his verses. He uses a lot of stereotypes surrounding black people such as “my nose is round” or “eat watermelon, chicken and Kool-Aid on weekdays” and that brings you into his world in a certain way, as we start to see things from his perspective and truly understand how much these words can affect the black community. The hook is very clever indeed as he appears to show the backwards steps society has taken towards dealing with race and how other people act. He implies that even in this day and age the Afro-American community are being put down and treated as inferiors which is in itself an outdated belief. He could also be suggesting that no matter how hard he tries, no matter what society we live in, there will never be true equality across the globe, there will always be another way to discriminate upon others. The ending is poetic to the core and shows Kendrick’s true emotions to haters who make false claims about his belief system. Ending the song with the stand alone word of “hypocrite” is so powerful in it’s own right too. The type of song only a mastermind could conjure up.

“You Ain’t Gotta Lie (Momma Said)” is song 14 on the tracklist and is arguably one of the most important ones given what it follows. The direction Kendrick would go after a song like “The Blacker The Berry” was literally anyone’s guess, he had a serious task on his hands to make the album flow with relevant symmetry after that as well as keeping the quality levels consistently high. That is exactly what K-Dot did here. He sends us all a powerful message of purgatory with this track and warns us all that even if our heroes appear knowledgeable because of how often and how loud they speak, it never tends to be the case; often it is the one who doesn’t feel the need to tell the world that knows best, and this is something that Kendrick tries to push throughout this song. The general premise of the song is telling people that they don’t need to lie in order to gain respect, just being the best person you can be often goes further than over-compensating and trying to impress people. He of course has to battle his demons with tracks like this but that positive concept of the track comes from Kendrick’s rational thinking side, showing perhaps his true signs of wisdom after cleansing himself of certain demons, including the likes of ‘Lucy’.

“i” is the penultimate track on the album, and although the studio single version won two Grammy awards for it’s brilliance, Kendrick elected for a quite personal and special live performance of the track to feature on the album. Kendrick also described “i” as the best song he has ever written, mainly because of his surprise at being able to write a positive song given his tough Compton upbringing. This song seems to be somewhat of an anomaly from the rest of the album as it focuses on Kendrick’s happiness and confidence within himself and his own ability, the message is simple in it’s delivery; the world is scary and dark at times, but if you have love for yourself first and foremost, you can learn to love everything else around you. The album version then features a fight within the crowd and Kendrick stops the music to question the lack of unity amongst the black community at such an important time. It is a really powerful moment and I for one am happy that he involved it in the album.

“Mortal Man” is the final track on the album and one which stands out to many for so many reasons. Firstly, the song itself looks back at what he has said and the legacy he will be leaving behind if anything were to happen to him. As he said in his interview with Billboard, the song isn’t about Kendrick telling everyone that he is their hero and saviour, it is instead questioning: “Do you really believe in me to do this?” He relates himself to the likes of Nelson Mandela, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr and that in itself shows how aware Kendrick is of his influence and the greatness he is currently pioneering. Quite remarkably, the song isn’t remembered for the song itself, it is instead remembered for the interview with the late Tupac, Kendrick’s hero as they both discuss fame, image and black culture. The soundbites he uses show that Kendrick is aware that he has a limited time to say what he truly wants to say, and place himself on the level of those he namedropped in the song. We were also treated to the full poem which he tells before the Tupac segment, it wraps up brilliantly and gives us the emotional thoughts Kendrick dealt with when composing this album. It is a truly magical listen and above all it is awe-inspiring to hear Kendrick and Pac side by side in the only possible way today.

So that is “To Pimp A Butterfly”. It has a Platinum certification in America and won Kendrick FIVE Grammy Awards, including Best Rap Album and Best Rap Song. It got five star reviews across the board and is often described as one of, if not the best album of the 21st century. It is a true celebration of black excellence, a demonstration of a genius at work; and proof that greatness can arise from the most difficult of times. Kendrick Lamar is well and truly a bona fide superstar, a modern prophet and a wordsmith that we should feel eternally grateful for existing alongside. Happy birthday to the album, I have a feeling that this may have a few more years of relevancy yet…

LA Flame Keeps Burning: Why Travis Scott is Hip-Hop’s Most Creative Artist

Jacques Webster, or Travis Scott as he is known in the music industry, is a Houston born rapper, producer and trap extraordinaire with the ability to create banger after banger without even breaking sweat. It really hasn’t taken long for people to sit up and notice Travis’ ability and it has him on the path to greatness already, just four years after his breakout hit ‘Upper Echelon’ hit the charts and became somewhat of a meme for those horns. Since then he has brought us two mixtapes and two albums, as well as multi-platinum singles and a number one album in America. Let’s have a look at what has moulded LA Flame’s meteoric rise.

His stage name may surprise many people, but the Scott part of it comes from his hero Kid Cudi, who’s real name is Scott Mescudi and Travis decided to use it as his stage surname.  He gathered his trade from a young age when he left “the hood” where his grandma lived to eventually move to his parent’s house in the suburbs of Houston, Texas. Dropping out of the University of Texas at San Antonio, Travis moved to Washington to focus fully on his music production, not having an intention at this point to be an artist himself, simply a producer. Things weren’t quite clicking and so he moved to Los Angeles, California. Upon arriving, rapper T.I. subsequently listened to one of his tracks and put him on the map, it was said that his production was something that stood out as masterful.

So he had backing and now a platform to perform not only as a producer, but an artist too. Travis was ready to release his first body of work, a mixtape titled “Owl Pharaoh” which he scheduled to release in 2012. After delaying it’s release, he then re-created the project entirely with the help of Kanye West and it gave the whole thing a new dimension. To make up for the delayed release, Scott was releasing singles to add anticipation, including his remix of Pusha T’s hit “Blocka” which Travis himself provided production for. “Quintana” then took off afterwards and XXL approached Travis to be a 2013 freshman. He accepted the invitation and gave one of the best cypher performances in the history of XXL. That soared Travis to new levels and suddenly there was pressure on his “Owl Pharaoh” release to hit the heights people now knew he could reach.

 

“Owl Pharaoh” was released as a free online download on May 21st 2013 and it gained a lot of buzz, with XXL giving it four stars in their review. The review went on to say that “Perhaps Owl Pharaoh’s sole drawback is that it still doesn’t quite seem to answer the question ‘Who exactly is Travi$ Scott?’ Luckily for him, this incredibly cohesive debut is so mesmerizing that everyone should want to find out.” High praise indeed from a very well respected publication. I personally really enjoyed “Owl Pharaoh” thanks to it’s brilliance on the production side of things, helping craft bangers into a cohesive and well-run project. With that being said I was still aware that he had more to offer, particularly in the lyrical sense as he came up a bit short in that regard.

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His period of rest wasn’t about to start here, though, as work very quickly began on a follow-up project, and we were promised big things this time round. Travis confirmed on his Twitter account that his debut album would be called “Rodeo” but this wouldn’t be an album, instead it’d be a mixtape titled “Days Before Rodeo”. He released his lead single titled “Don’t Play” featuring Big Sean and British band The 1975 on May 5th 2014 and gave fans a taste of what was to come. It was a brilliant twist of technical production and strong bars, a real sign of progression from Houston’s rising starlet. “Days Before Rodeo” soon followed and came to us in August of the same year, boasting some of the hardest production around, not least on second single “Mamacita” featuring Rich Homie Quan and Young Thug, which is hands down one of the filthiest trap bangers I’ve heard in a long time. ‘Days Before’ was critically received on a very high level, with Jacob Roy from ‘Thefourohfive’ stating that “it wouldn’t be a stretch to say Travi$ Scott could be at the forefront for a new generation of hip-hop that have their eyes on the bigger picture.” The potential was starting to blossom and people were now seeing the vision that LA Flame had. As for what followed, nobody could have expected it.

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Two mixtapes under his belt, it was time for Travis Scott to venture into the world of album releases and with the support of record labels “Grand Hustle” and “Epic”, it was time for us to all join the “Rodeo”. It was a project that Travis had ready for a while, but he was desperate to perfect it and make sure the crucial touches were added in the right places. The result was nothing short of magical. A diverse and unique take on a modern day concept album, with trap bangers and emotional life anecdotes to suit. Singles “3500”, featuring Future and 2 Chainz, and “Antidote” charted well and are still burning up speakers to this day with their spaced-out production and hardcore beat drops. The way the album is put together makes it a modern classic already, ranking in my own top 10 albums of this decade so far, above the likes of “Blond” by Frank Ocean to name just one. The album becomes a tale of the highs and lows of life, the riches and the rags, but above all it is 14 songs of absolute dynamite, with every single track coming at the perfect time. This was the step, Travis was now a global star and would surely now rest on his laurels after the success.

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You thought wrong if you thought he was done there. After copping a top three album and mass critical acclaim, Travis announced at the beginning of 2016 that a new album was on the way and we were then given it that September, with the confusing title “Birds In The Trap Sing McKnight”. This album may not have been as culturally and emotionally connecting as “Rodeo”, but it sure had sellability and we saw that when he got his first ever number one album from it. Features such as Andre 3000 and Kid Cudi meant Travis was living a dream by collaborating with some of his musical influences, while other guest verses from Kendrick Lamar, Bryson Tiller and The Weeknd meant he was officially in the commercial limelight. He didn’t disappoint and gave us 14 more bangers, the highlights of which were “Pick Up The Phone” with Young Thug and Migos’ Quavo, which is now certified Platinum as a single, and “Beibs In The Trap” with NAV, a glazed trap song with out of this world vibes to it and psychedelic production. Complex ranked it as the 5th best album of 2016, while XXL rated it four stars again. I had it in 11th place in my albums of the year list, ranking only behind Kanye West, Chance The Rapper and Noname for the best hip-hop album.

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So there is his discography, if you still aren’t convinced then let me run through some of his stand-out strengths that make him, in my opinion one of the best rappers in the industry at the moment:

Hooks

Name an artist who has made as many catchy hooks as Travis Scott. Nobody? You would be correct to think that, because there is absolutely nobody who comes close to him. Whether it’s a guest hook or one of his own, Travis knows how to sell a track and make it memorable in the most important of areas, the chorus. Evidence of this would quite simply be his whole discography, go on his Spotify and listen for yourself. “Antidote”, “Goosebumps”, “Pick Up The Phone” and “Apple Pie” stand out for me as the best of his hooks.

Features

He may well be the best feature artist in hip-hop at the moment, he is that good at leaving a lasting impression on a track that isn’t his. All you need to do is take the example of G.O.O.D. Music’s “Champions” track, which has a handful of rappers on it but who stands out? Travis Scott, of course. His hooks play a major part of this success when featuring, but he can also do a great job when spitting bars in his verse. Prime evidence of his rap talents are on the Justin Bieber track “No Sense” where Travis demonstrates raw flow and cadence while also sticking to his typically cold character.

Variation

The best thing with Travis Scott when listening to his music is that you have a great balance between the club bangers and his ability to make dark and moody attitude music. Songs like “Pick Up The Phone” or “Antidote” will get a club moving that’s for sure but then tracks like “Mamacita” and “Piss On Your Grave” will create a dark atmosphere around anything you see and do. As well as that he can make songs like “90210” or “First Take” where he shows his emotional side with women and growing up. He has a brilliant talent in more than one field and that’s what sets him apart from the rest.

Style

You won’t see many more stylish people in the music industry than Travis Scott, both in a musical and fashion sense. He has collaborated with Alexander Wang, Supreme and Beats by Dre to create some of the slickest looks and make himself one of the hottest properties in the world. He is alongside the likes of Kanye West and A$AP Rocky as hip-hop’s fashion king now thanks to his pioneering looks and eccentric trends, as well as his well documented relationship with Supreme and Louis Vuitton.

Artistry

Many consider the use of autotune as a cop out, a crutch to help aid someone who can’t reach the notes they wish to due to their voices limitations. That opinion has now become about as outdated as the people who still believe in it thanks to the work of Kanye West in his “808s & Heartbreak” album. Ever since then, people have been trying with varied degrees of success to emulate that sound. Travis Scott has done more than emulate it, he has revolutionised it and as a result has added new levels of heroism to his music, from intoxicated hooks to elongated tones in his raps. If you don’t believe me that he is revolutionised the sound, then listen to “sdp Interlude” and then check back in with me, okay?

 

Basically, Travis is a culture changer, he makes the way you listen to music different to the norm. He has a personality on his songs, he has a message and a vision that he is pushing and first and foremost he is a bloody good artist. Without a doubt in my mind, he is the king of trap music and it won’t be long before he becomes the king of hip-hop in general. Watch this space and of course, let LA Flame burn on forever.

2016: A Year In Music

2016 has been a year full of twists and turns in the music industry, we have had soaring highs and plunging lows, we have seen comeback kids and new kids on the block (not literally) bless us with releases and as a result it has been a fruitful 12 months of high-quality music. Last year I did one of these year in review posts for hip-hop, mainly due to the massive push the genre had, but seeing as it has now become a major fabric of the industry and is probably the number one genre, I figured I would incorporate all walks of musical life in this year’s one. So kick back, relax, and let us reflect on a crazy year in the musical sphere.

January:

January 2016 started full of expectation and excitement, mainly through the return of pop icon David Bowie and his new album ‘Blackstar’; little did we know that this would be a parting gift from the Starman as he would pass away two days after it’s unveiling after a long battle with cancer, something he kept secret from us all in order to keep us all positive. This meant that the month of January became immensely reflective, looking back at our favourite Bowie tracks or albums, wondering how this man wasn’t immortal. However, it wasn’t all doom and gloom as we in fact were given some big releases in this month. Anderson .Paak released his debut album ‘Malibu’ which was immensely well received and has since gone on to be nominated for a Grammy and deservedly so. Another huge name release was Rihanna who brought out ‘ANTI’ and many enjoyed it, I did not but who am I to judge a woman of Rihanna’s stature and calibre? Sia also brought out ‘This Is Acting’ in January and has enjoyed a lot of success as a result, becoming a regular in the charts and being granted a top five place in Spotify’s most played artists of 2016 list.

Kanye released ‘Real Friends’ and ‘No More Parties In LA’ in the build up to his latest album and they were stunning, giving us hope that Yeezy would once again deliver with a top draw album. Panic! At The Disco were now a one man band in Brendon Urie but that didn’t stop him releasing a very good project in ‘Death Of A Bachelor’ which is a front-runner to win Best Rock Album at the Grammys. Zayn Malik released his eagerly awaited ssong ‘Pillowtalk’ and it was a huge success, with non-1D fans taking notice of his R&B roots, while Drake continued his fast paced releases by giving us ‘Summer Sixteen’ which did what it said on the tin, it set us up for a Drake dominated summer.

  • High point: Anderson .Paak’s debut
  • Low point: Bowie’s death

 

February:

We were finally given Kanye West’s album, after three name changes it was now called ‘The Life Of Pablo’ and it was a wonderful treat to finally be given after such an eager wait. Future also released a new project in ‘EVOL’ less than a year after his widely successful album ‘DS2’ and it contained huge club bangers including a spicy hit with The Weeknd. Sticking with hip-hop, the controversial Macklemore & Ryan Lewis followed up their Grammy award winning debut album with the sophomore release ‘This Unruly Mess I’ve Made’ where he explained the controversy of beating Kendrick to the award at the Grammy’s as well as his struggles with fatherhood and his strong beliefs on black oppression. The 1975 gave us their second album and it is easily the weirdest and most self-indulging title you will hear all year (‘I Like It When You Sleep, For You Are So Beautiful Yet So Unaware’), cringe. The album actually wasn’t half bad in fairness and it helped them break America, as well as winning the not-so-prestigious Album Of The Year award from NME.

Critic’s Choice winner at the BRITs Jack Garratt released his debut album and proved why he is the literal example of an Ed Sheeran-Disclosure love child with this pulsating electronic love album, one of the highlights of the year in my opinion. There were also releases for Young Thug, BJ The Chicago Kid and Majid Jordan, all of which you could say were underwhelming given the hype surrounding them. A little known Australian group called DMA’s released their debut album ‘Hills End’ in February and initially it was tucked under the carpet and it wasn’t until later in the year people realised how good an album it was. February also became the month where chart music took a turn, with acts like Fifth Harmony and The Chainsmokers becoming headline news, never a nice thing to witness.

Another crashing low hit us in February, with the devastating news that young Warrington group Viola Beach, who had played at the BBC Introducing stage at Reading and Leeds in 2015, died in a car crash in Sweden after a gig. The boys were going on to fantastic things and as you will see later, would have been proud of how their album went when it was released. A week after the crash, ‘Swings & Waterslides’ entered the charts at number 11.

  • High point: Kanye’s album
  • Low point: Viola Beach’s death

 

March: 

Kendrick Lamar stunned us with a new project completely out of the blue, but quickly after seeing the title ‘Untitled Unmastered’ it was apparent to see that this was a B-side project, it was still fantastic though and it is always great hearing new Kendrick songs. Denzel Curry released his debut album ‘Imperial’ which was eagerly anticipated after his breakout hit ‘Ultimate’ which has now become the sound track to the Bottle flip challenge. Young Thug released ‘Slime Season 3’ and it was great, probably my favourite Thugger project to date as he used his typical insanity to create eight trap bangers. XXL Freshman Lil Yachty released his debut mixtape ‘Lil Boat’ and it was one of the best releases of the year in hip-hop thanks to hits like ‘One Night’, he soon became a loveable character with his infectious personality. Kano brought out ‘Made In The Manor’ and made people sit up and notice that maybe it isn’t just about Skepta and Stormzy in the grime genre. Finally, Flatbush Zombies announced themselves in a big way with bouncing album ‘3001: A Laced Odyssey’ which gained them a very big boost in fanbase.

Outside of rap, we had a lot of returning heroes in the month of March, with Iggy Pop teaming up with Queens Of The Stone Age frontman Joshua Homme and Arctic Monkeys drummer Matt Helders in his new album ‘Post Pop Despression’ which was very well received indeed. As well as Iggy Pop we had Scottish Britpop outfit Primal Scream return with ‘Chaosmosis’, an album which was a bit of a dud sadly. The Coral rose from the ashes and released a decent album with ‘Distance Inbetween’, but it wasn’t just about the oldies as Zayn Malik brought his long-awaited debut album out ‘Mind Of Mine’ and many people have forgotten it exists, that is all I shall say on the matter.

  • High point: Kendrick Lamar’s shock drop
  • Low point: Zayn Malik’s huge flop

 

April:

Another 2016 month, another tragic loss in the industry. This time, American pop icon Prince was taken from us suddenly on April 21st after a swift deterioration of health. Much like the death of Bowie, people were reflecting on the career of Prince and would play his biggest hits as a homage to his legacy. This was the tip of an hugely eventful month, where arguably the two biggest names in music released new albums, Drake and Beyonce. Beyonce’s became headline news as she made it Tidal exclusive and has kept it that way to this day, while Drake’s was accessible to all and it broke records, going platinum in one week and having every single track feature in Billboard’s Hot 100.

Weezer came back with an eponymous album and it was as well thought of as their debut some two decades earlier. Alex Turner joined up with his old pal Miles Kane and as a result, The Last Shadow Puppets were reborn and they released their second album ‘Everything You’ve Come To Expect’ which I really enjoyed, as did many others. Lukas Graham’s debut album came out and went down well after their breakout hit ‘7 Years’ which has been widely award nominated. In terms of singles we were gifted two of the best songs of the year courtesy of Drake (One Dance) and D.R.A.M. (Broccoli) which have only gone on to get better as time goes on.

  • High point: Beyonce being Beyonce
  • Low point: Prince’s death

 

May:

In terms of quality, you will do well to find a better month for albums than May, with three of my top 10 albums of the year coming out in this month alone. The first of which to be released was Skepta’s ‘Konnichiwa’ which has been regarded as one of the most important British albums in a decade and has gone on to win the Mercury Prize, not bad for a lad from North London. Two days later Radiohead released ‘A Moon Shaped Pool’ and it was biblical, my review describes it as more than music and I stand by it, the album is a religious experience and one which I am eternally grateful for. Third up was Chance The Rapper’s third mixtape ‘Coloring Book’ which was better than anyone could have hoped for and it really took some beating this year, with most major news outlets rating it very high in their end of year lists. Big things ahead for Chicago’s new hip-hop prodigal son.

As well as these three, we had Canadian producer KAYTRANADA’s debut album ‘99.9%’ with big features including Anderson .Paak and Craig David and it was fantastic, taking the genre in a new direction and making the future very bright indeed. Flume also did major things for the electronic genre with his debit album ‘Skin’ which was one I enjoyed massively. James Blake released ‘The Colour In Anything’ and it was everything we have come to expect in a James Blake project, a very moody but harmonic anthem and I enjoyed it. Pop releases came from Ariana Grande and Meghan Trainor and they were as painful as they sound, with Meghan Trainor being a major contender for the worst album of the year. Speaking of shoddy albums, Catfish & The Bottlemen blesses us with a half-arsed, lazy project that was exactly the same as their debut just worse, glad we have cleared that up.

I couldn’t talk about May without mentioning the triumphant returns we had, with Richard Ashcroft releasing his album ‘These People’ and pleasing plenty of people with his typically solid sounding acoustic tracks. As well as Ashcroft, Manchester heroes The Stone Roses released their first song in over 20 years with ‘All For One’ and although it wasn’t mind-blowing, it was great to hear new sounds coming from them.

  • High point: High quality albums (Radiohead, Chance, Skepta)
  • Low point: Catfish’s brainless release

 

June:

June was an up and down month in terms of releases, with plenty of strong projects coming out but also plenty of disappointing ones too. One of my favourite bands The Strokes returned this month with a snippet of what could be to come in the form of the ‘Future Present Past’ EP which contained three new songs and a remix. The songs have grown on me but they are hardly classics and the same can be said for the new Red Hot Chili Peppers album ‘The Getaway’ which had so much promise with the release of lead single ‘Dark Necessities’ but all in all it was an inconsistent piece of work. Taking the prize for the biggest flop of the month was Desiigner, who’s mixtape ‘New English’ was diabolical outside of the singles, it was just so lazy and thrown together.

There were very good releases, however, such as Vic Mensa’s ‘There’s Alot Going On’ EP which came out following the mass police shooting in Chicago and the statement it announced was huge, it was also very good and showed Vic to be an immensely talented artist. Compton rapper YG also shocked us all with his fantastic release ‘Still Brazy’ which was a West Coast delight in the modern day. Jake Bugg’s ‘On My One’ album didn’t do necessarily well with critical acclaim and I don’t understand why, I think it was fantastic. Last but not least big shouts to Paul Simon who is still going strong releasing albums as he did in June.

  • High point: YG becoming a serious rapper
  • Low point: Desiigner’s embarrassment

 

July:

We were hip-hop heavy in July, with some of the other big hitters taking a back seat while lesser known artists made a name for themselves with immense projects. No more so than female Chicago rapper Noname, who’s album ‘Telefone’ was one of my favourites of the year with that feel-good vibe oozing out of it, Logic also released a huge mixtape in ‘Bobby Tarantino’ which confirmed his place as the best of the underground rappers. There were some big names who dropped this month too, most notably so are DJ Khaled with ‘Major Key’ and ScHoolboy Q with ‘Blank Face LP’ and of the two, ScHoolboy easily had the better project despite Khaled’s stacked feature list of rap’s biggest names. 21 Savage released ‘Savage Mode’ with Metro Boomin and raised a few eyebrows with his abrasive rap style but plenty of people enjoyed it too. Gucci Mane announced his release from jail with a new album and despite a couple of shining lights, it was fairly underwhelming.

It wasn’t all about rapping in July, legendary punk-rock band Blink-182 released their first album without lead singer Tom DeLonge in ‘California’ and it was…. DREADFUL. On the other hand, Biffy Clyro released ‘Ellipsis’ and that was a return to form for the Scottish rockers. We also heard Viola Beach’s post-humous self-titled album and it was great, an absolute tragedy that these boys were taken so early. Good will prevailed when the album made it to number one in the album charts and the boys were given the send off they deserve. On the singles front, Major Lazer took the cake with his hit ‘Cold Water’ with MO and Justin Bieber.

  • High point: Viola Beach’s number 1
  • Low point: Blink-182’s travesty of an album

 

August:

They should rename this month to ‘Frank Ocean month’ because he was all people spoke about in August. The album was taking it’s time and we were wondering if we were ever going to get it, then bang, that crazy weekend. TWO ALBUMS. ‘Endless’ was followed by ‘Blond’ a day later and we were eternally peaceful, Frank was alive and well and was giving us these two pieces of art. ‘Blond’ is album of the year, hands down, by the way. Other things did happen, however, both Vince Staples and Young Thug released projects that were well received and set them up nicely for the future. Rae Sremmurd brought us ‘SremmLife 2’ and thus the anthem of the Mannequin challenge, ‘Black Beatles’, a song which surely even they weren’t expecting to take off like it did. We were also treated to PARTYNEXTDOOR’s new album, but it turned out to be less of a treat and more of a criminal offence.

Blossoms released one of the biggest buzz albums of the year in their eponymous debut and it didn’t disappoint, cementing their place as one of the stand-outs of new-age indie music, while we also saw unexpected returns from Bon Iver and Green Day, both of whom released incredibly sub-par singles and left us all dreading their albums (rightfully so as you will find out). Speaking of dread, Crystal Castles brought a new project out and it takes you to dark places you didn’t think existed, and not in an experimental musical way at all, it is just appalling and the absence of Alice Glass is being felt more than ever for the progressive trance group. If dull pop vibes are your bag, then you’ll love the new Britney Spears and Carly Rae Jepsen projects released this year, I don’t but that doesn’t mean you won’t either. Quick mention of Tory Lanez’s sub-par record too, must do better.

  • High point: Frank Ocean being alive
  • Low point: Bon Iver and Green Day damaging their reps

 

September:

September was a very busy month for us music connoisseurs as so many big names released big albums and for the most part they were big hits, particularly the likes of Solange (Beyonce’s sister), Angel Olsen and Usher who all did good jobs on their work. The stand outs of the month, though, were rappers; which will come as no surprise when you hear the albums released this month. Right at the start of the month we had my Houston man Travis Scott releasing his ‘Rodeo’ follow-up, bizarrely titled ‘Birds In The Trap Sing McKnight’ and it was brilliant, as expected. It wasn’t ‘Rodeo’ but you can hardly blame him for falling short of one of the best hip-hop albums of the decade, especially if he isn’t falling that far short with it. We then had Isaiah Rashad of Top Dawg Entertainment release his album ‘The Sun’s Tirade’ on the same day and it was just as good, if not better, than Travis’. He took the crown of the best TDE project of the year and that is a huge accomplishment in itself. Mac Miller returned later in the month with ‘The Divine Feminine’ and tried his hand at the new wave of funk rap and it turned out to be a success but all of these were trumped by borderline psychopath Danny Brown in his new album ‘Atrocity Exhibition’ and to say it is unorthodox would be the understatement of the century. This album is bonkers, the whole thing is just an unveiling of his inner demons displayed in a crazed serial killer fashion and I love it.

Let’s not forget about the comeback singles of R&B’s king The Weeknd, who teamed with Daft Punk on his track ‘Starboy’ and it shot to number one, he was well and truly back. ‘False Alarm’ was and still is woeful, though.  Another chart hero returned this month, none other than Lady Gaga who bounced back with authority in her comeback track ‘Perfect Illusion’ where she is seen strutting her stuff with Tame Impala’s Kevin Parker in the music video, cool as anything I have seen all year. Bastille had the difficult task of following up their huge debut album ‘Bad Blood’ and it went exactly how I expected; an inconsistent project which was inept of a set theme or image, a real transition phase for the London boys. We also saw Jamie T continue his comeback with his fourth album ‘Trick’ and it went down a storm, with lots of people enjoying his latest direction and rekindling the love they first found for him. As well as Jamie T, we also saw Nick Cave make a return with his new album ‘Skeleton Tree’ and although I wasn’t the biggest fan of it, the album was immensely well praised. Is that because it is Nick Cave and he can do no wrong in the eyes of NME? I’ll let you decide…

  • High point: Hip-hop’s domination thanks to Danny, Mac and Travis
  • Low point: Bastille’s flop follow-up

 

October:

HOLD THE PHONE, STOP THE CLOCKS, PAY ATTENTION. MICHAEL BUBLE RELEASED AN ALBUM THAT HAD NO INVOLVEMENT WITH CHRISTMAS IN OCTOBER 2016. That was always going to be the headline of this month which was relatively quiet in all honesty, perhaps because we all needed a detox from last month’s stack of releases. In all seriousness, however, we did have some big name releases this month, most notably so from Lady Gaga, who’s album ‘Joanne’ went completely full circle from her previous albums and was far more stripped back than we would have expected from such an eccentric artist and personality. It was pretty good as well  but not my favourite Gaga release. Green Day and Tove Lo had a battle to see who could release the biggest heap of tosh this month as ‘Revolution Radio’ became Green Day’s worst work to date and ‘Lady Wood’ was as pathetic as it sounds from Tove Lo, an artist who I have enjoyed in previous years but no longer. There was also a late runner for the worst album of the year on behalf of Manchester faithfuls The Courteeners, who manage to blow us away in all the wrong ways with ‘Mapping The Rendezvous’, sporting some of the worst and unoriginal sounds of the year, such a shame to see a band like that fall so dramatically.

It is difficult to not get negative about this month when the shoddy releases just kept on coming. Meek Mill’s ‘DC4’ and A$AP Mob’s ‘Cozy Tapes Vol. 1 – Friends’ were a big snooze-fest bar stand out singles coming from them both, which actually contain guest verses that are the highlight of the album, never good. Sum 41 and Kaiser Chiefs made my head explode thanks to mind-numbingly bad releases and Two Door Cinema Club’s comeback album wasn’t much better. Okay, I am giving you the impression that nothing good came from October, but actually there were one or two highlights. Kings Of Leon came back with their seventh album ‘WALLS’ and it was one of my favourites of the year from one of my favourite bands. As well as that we had a good release from XXL Freshman rapper D.R.A.M. which contained ‘Brocolli’ featuring Lil Yachty of course. Leonard Cohen released a surprise album and it soon became apparent as to why he did so.

  • High point: Kings Of Leon’s new sound
  • Low point: Where do I start?

 

November

It’d been quite a while since we lost Prince and there was faith that in terms of musical legends we were safe for the rest of the year; how wrong we would be as Leonard Cohen died in the month of November, less than a month after his final album release, suggesting that he had done what Bowie did and given us a parting gift. Despite the tragedy of this news, we were given a big piece of positivity courtesy of A Tribe Called Quest and their first album in almost 20 years with ‘We Got It From Here… Thank You 4 The Service’. It was like they never left and a fitting tribute to the late member Phife Dawg, providing something he would’ve been very proud of. Their album was somewhat overshadowed, however, by the release of The Weeknd’s album ‘Starboy’ which confirmed all of our suspicions that he could be the modern answer to Michael Jackson, providing soul and attitude over stunning instrumentals. We also had the release of another man who has been related to MJ, and that is Bruno Mars, who brought out ’24k Magic’ out as an album in this month and I enjoyed it, seeing it make my top 50 albums of the year.

Unfortunately I didn’t enjoy every album put out this year, mainly because Metallica brought one out too. Now I find Metallica insufferable at the best of times, but at least their old music produced technically good songs, this is just poor from top to bottom. My favourites in the entire world, The Chainsmokers, released the best album I have ever heard in my entire life and ever will here in my entire life with their ‘Collage’ EP (please recognise this as sarcasm because it is, the EP made me physically ill). Little Mix brought out a new album and you’ll be shocked to hear that it sounds like every other girl band ever, oh wait no you won’t. On a lighter note we had singles from The xx and Run The Jewels which were really really good.

  • High point: A Tribe Called Quest’s smash return
  • Low point: Leonard Cohen’s passing (The Chainsmokers can count themselves lucky here)

 

December:

And here we have it, the final month of 2016 and this is right up there with my favourites, mainly due to the fact that some of my favourite artists waited until the burning embers of the year to release their music and it was some of the best we have heard all year. I’ll run you through some of the names now: Childish Gambino’s stunning “Awaken, My Love!” which boasted the most passion and soul since James Brown’s prime, Post Malone’s ‘Stoney’ which was everything we wanted and a lot more as Post sounded like a grittier version of Bieber behind hard beats. J Cole stunned the world with his return and ‘4 Your Eyez Only’ has got better and better each time I hear it, would probably push my top 10 of the year now. The Rolling Stones sounded fresh and 40 years younger on blues cover album ‘Blue & Lonesome’ while Kid Cudi was rejuvinated and beyond his dark days of ‘Speedin Bullet’ with his new album ‘Passion, Pain and Demon Slayin’. ‘Run The Jewels 3’ was the best Christmas present any of us could ask for and Peter Doherty waved his poetic wand and sounded like a musical George Orwell in ‘Hamburg Demonstrations’.

I’m still not done, by the way. Gucci Mane changed my opinion on him with his hilarious titled banger album ‘The Return Of East Atlanta Santa’ and Ab-Soul proved he isn’t a weak link amongst the Top Dawg giants with his hard-hitting album ‘Do What Thou Wilt’. Jeremih and Chance The Rapper brought out a joint festive mixtape called ‘Merry Christmas Lil’ Mama’ and it was as heart-warming and classy as it sounds. There were only one or two poor showings in this stacked month and one of them is a single from Yung Lean, ‘Frost God’ is just strange but not experimental at all. That is just about all I can see in terms of negatives for this month, not bad going that and it was clear these artists wanted us all to have the merriest of Christmases.

There we are thinking this musical Christmas is perfect, and then we find out it was George Michael’s Last Christmas on this planet before a peaceful passing at his home. Listening to Wham with your pigs in blankets or listening to Club Tropicana snapping your fingers will never be the same again. A truly devastating passing to end a horror show of a year in terms of musical icons proving they too are human beings.

  • High point: Every man and his dog brought out a banging album
  • Low point: Yung Lean made me a sad boi and not in a good way 😦 but seriously it’s probably George Michael dying

 

So there you are, a crazy year full of loss, love and bangers. If 2017 can emulate the headlines and the quality of music created in 2016, I will be a very surprised person. Just for the love of god don’t take any more icons, I’m looking at you Paul McCartney, Bob Dylan and most importantly, Rick Astley.

Predictions for the 59th Grammy Awards

The Grammy Awards are back and are around the corner, with the nominations being announced just before Christmas and they have provided plenty of food for thought. Beyonce leads the way with nine nominations while Drake, Rihanna and Kanye West all have eight each. The most pleasing result may well be the incredible seven nomiations Chance The Rapper recieved given he is an independent artist who only releases mixtapes, a victory for real musicians against the corporate agenda. There are plenty of categoriess for people to try their hands at and I have decided to give my predictions for each award and also tell you who I would like to see win on the night. If you have any predictions yourself then feel free to get involved and have your say, I would love to hear your thoughts.

In order to be nominated for a Grammy Award this year, an album must be released between October 1st 2015 and September 30th 2016, meaning artists such as Childish Gambino, Lady Gaga and J Cole weren’t eligible for this year but will be for next year’s awards.

Album Of The Year

  • 25 – Adele
  • Lemonade – Beyonce
  • Purpose – Justin Bieber
  • Views – Drake
  • A Sailor’s Guide To Earth – Sturgill Simpson

I think that Beyonce is taking this one home and she probably deserves it, although I wouldn’t be surprised to see Adele or Bieber take it home. Just anyone but Drake because nobody should win such a prestigious award with an album like that.

Record Of The Year

  • “Hello” – Adele
  • “Work” – Rihanna ft. Drake
  • “Formation” – Beyonce
  • “7 Years” – Lukas Graham
  • “Stressed Out” – Twenty One Pilots

I would be shocked if Twenty One Pilots won this one because “Stressed Out” may well be a decent song but record of the year? Come on now. Don’t be shocked to see a Beyonce win again here given the cultural beliefs she preaches in the song but as a song, I think Adele should take it given how incredible a return it was for our Essex sweetheart. Rihanna is in with a shout, though so don’t rule her out.

Song Of The Year

  • “Formation” – Khalif Brown, Asheton Hogan, Beyoncé Knowles & Michael L. Williams II, songwriters (Beyoncé)
  • “Hello” — Adele Adkins & Greg Kurstin, songwriters (Adele)
  • “I Took A Pill In Ibiza” — Mike Posner, songwriter (Mike Posner)
  • “Love Yourself” – Justin Bieber, Benjamin Levin & Ed Sheeran, songwriters (Justin Bieber)
  • “7 Years” — Lukas Forchhammer, Stefan Forrest, Morten Pilegaard & Morten Ristorp, songwriters (Lukas Graham)

I am expecting a Bieber victory here and you couldn’t begrudge him of it, “Love Yourself” became a colossal hit and confirmed that the once public enemy number one was now actually alright and had a very strong voice. If “I Took A Pill In Ibiza” wins the Grammy’s should be boycotted because it just isn’t on the level of the rest of these tracks. Bieber the favourite but Beyonce and Adele close behind him.

Best New Artist

  • The Chainsmokers
  • Chance The Rapper
  • Maren Morris
  • Kelsea Ballerini
  • Anderson .Paak

I am rooting for Anderson .Paak and Chance The Rapper because they have brought the realness back to music, with Anderson .Paak pioneering this re-introduction of funk and soul into hip-hop and Chance proving you don’t need a label or even an album to become a star. I regret to inform you that although I do feel confident that Chance will take it, the plague of modern music The Chainsmokers have a very good chance simply because brainless EDM is something that people enjoy apparently.

Best Pop Vocal Album

  • 25 – Adele
  • Purpose – Justin Bieber
  • Dangerous Woman – Ariana Grande
  • Confident – Demi Lovato
  • This Is Acting – Sia

If this were my list, it’d be between Bieber and Adele and Adele would take it solely for her voice, seeing as this a vocal award, but I do think that Ariana Grande has a chance given the huge commercial success of “Dangerous Woman” and her reputation for having a stunning voice. I wouldn’t be surprised to see any of these win the award, except for Demi Lovato of course.

Best Pop Solo Performance

  • “Hello” – Adele
  • “Hold Up” – Beyonce
  • “Love Yourself” – Justin Bieber
  • “Piece By Piece (Idol Version)” – Kelly Clarkson
  • “Dangerous Woman” – Ariana Grande

Are you starting to see a trend with these nominations? I am getting pretty tired of saying that it could be between Beyonce, Adele and Bieber to be honest but it will be. I think Bieber will take it and I would quite like for him too, but “Hold Up” is one of the better tracks on that new Beyonce album so don’t count your chickens.

Best Pop Duo/Group Performance

  • “Closer” – The Chainsmokers ft. Halsey
  • “7 Years” – Lukas Graham
  • “Work” – Rihanna ft. Drake
  • “Cheap Thrills” – Sia ft. Sean Paul
  • “Stressed Out” – Twenty One Pilots

Although I do love “Cheap Thrills” I can’t live in a world where Sean Paul is a Grammy winner in 2017. Realistically speaking it will be between The Chainsmokers and Rihanna and I am begging for a Rihanna win for the good of music. “Work” is a serious banger too so that helps but my reasoning is simply because she isn’t The Chainsmokers.

Best Dance Recording

  • “Don’t Let Me Down” – The Chainsmokers ft. Daya
  • “Never Be Like You” – Flume ft. Kai
  • “Tearing Me Up” – Bob Moses
  • “Rinse & Repeat” – Riton ft. Kah-Lo
  • “Drinkee” – Sofi Tukker

I have everything crossed for Flume because of how brilliant a song that is, it has such a unique sound and given that this is often a category I am not a big fan of, it is lovely to hear some originality for a change. It will be between Flume and The Chainsmokers but we all know the dangers of radio play so I think The Chainsmokers might take this.

Best Dance/Electronic Album

  • Skin – Flume
  • Electronica 1: The Time Machine – Jean-Michel Jarre
  • Epoch – Tycho
  • Barbara Barbara, We Face A Shining Future – Underworld
  • Louie Vega Starring…XXVII – Louie Vega

Once again this is a category I am not entirely knowledgeable about apart from Flume and I know how good that album was so I think it will take some beating, hopefully Flume comes home with a couple of Grammy’s and keeps the life in dance music.

Best Rock Performance

  • “Joe (Live From Austin City Limits)” – Alabama Shakes
  • “Don’t Hurt Yourself” – Beyonce ft. Jack White
  • “Blackstar” – David Bowie
  • “The Sound Of Silence” – Disturbed
  • “Heathens” – Twenty One Pilots

“Heathens” was a big hit but I really can’t see it winning this one, for me it will be close between Bowie and Beyonce, who has a lot to thank Jack White for because any neutral bypasser will wonder how on earth she made it into a Rock category. I would like to see David Bowie take it because the structure of “Blackstar” the song is absolutely fantastic and it probably is the best choice on the list.

Best Metal Performance

  • “Shock Me” — Baroness
  • “Slivera” — Gojira
  • “Rotting in Vain” — Korn
  • “Dystopia” — Megadeth
  • “The Price Is Wrong” — Periphery

I haven’t a clue quite frankly. I will pick Korn because they did “Freak On A Leash” and that’s a banger, I will ignore Megadeth because they are one of the bands I can’t topple on Guitar Hero so screw you, Megadeth. I do apologise to any metal fans, it just isn’t my scene but I didn’t want to leave it out.

Best Rock Song

  • “Blackstar” – David Bowie
  • “Burn The Witch” – Radiohead
  • “Hardwired” – Metallica
  • “Heathens” – Twenty One Pilots
  • “My Name Is Human” – Highly Suspect

This is a very tough one for me, it is between Bowie and Radiohead and I am trying my hardest to be impartial and judge it purely on a musical basis, something I guarantee the Grammy’s will not do. I think on this occasion I would give it to Radiohead but David Bowie will 100% win the actual award, I am certain of it.

Best Rock Album

  • California – Blink-182
  • Tell Me I’m Pretty – Cage The Elephant
  • Magma – Gojira
  • Death Of A Bachelor – Panic! At The Disco
  • Weezer – Weezer

This is a good list on paper, but do not be fooled by Blink-182, that album was truly woeful. It could be a three horse race between Weezer, Panic! and Cage The Elephant and I am rooting for Panic! because I enjoyed the hell out of that album. Will it win? I’m not so sure, I have a worrying feeling that Blink might take it but Weezer have a chance too.

Best Alternative Music Album

  • 22, A Million – Bon Iver
  • Blackstar – David Bowie
  • The Hope Six Demolition Project – PJ Harvey
  • Post Pop Depression – Iggy Pop
  • A Moon Shaped Pool – Radiohead

Now this is an interesting and stacked list. Bon Iver may well win it given their return to music and the reputation they have at this awards’ show, as could Iggy Pop thanks to the supergroup help he got from the likes of Joshua Homme and Matt Helders. I do think it is a two horse race between David Bowie and Radiohead and on quality of music, Radiohead edge it, but the Grammy’s will give it to Bowie and I wouldn’t be disheartened by that at all, it is a fantastic way to celebrate the man’s legacy. Radiohead’s album is the best one on the list, though.

Best R&B Performance 

  • “Turnin’ Me Up” – BJ The Chicago Kid
  • “Permission” – Ro James
  • “I Do” – Musiq Soulchild
  • “Needed Me” – Rihanna
  • “Cranes In The Sky” – Solange

I think this could be another victory for the Knowles family with Beyonce’s sister Solange taking the award for her lead single “Cranes In The Sky” which is a beautiful track. I loved BJ The Chicago Kid’s work on “Turnin’ Me Up” but I think it might be a bit of a long shot going for him, Rihanna is in with a shot, though without doubt.

Best R&B Song

  • “Come And See Me” – PARTYNEXTDOOR ft. Drake
  • “Exchange” – Bryson Tiller
  • “Kiss It Better” – Rihanna
  • “Lake By The Ocean” – Maxwell
  • “Luv” – Tory Lanez

This is wide open really, I wouldn’t begrudge any of these winning given that they are all big hits. With that being said, no hit is bigger than “Exchange” by Bryson Tiller and he is 100% deserving of the award given his meteoric rise and the sheer originality he has brought to the table. Don’t be surprised to see any of these win, however, particularly Tory Lanez or Rihanna.

Best Urban Contempary Album

  • Lemonade – Beyonce
  • Ology – Gallant
  • We Are King – KING
  • Malibu – Anderson .Paak
  • ANTI – Rihanna

Beyonce will walk this award I am sure of it but my opinion would be that Anderson .Paak runs her very close given the instant success of Malibu and where he has gone as a result of it. Rihanna better not win this award with that album, it is genuinely one of the worst albums I have heard in the past few years and the highlight of it is a Tame Impala cover so that says it all.

Best Rap Performance

  • “No Problem” – Chance The Rapper ft. 2 Chainz & Lil Wayne
  • “Panda” – Desiigner
  • “Pop Style” – Drake ft. The Throne
  • “All The Way Up” – Fat Joe & Remy Ma ft. French Montana & Infared
  • “THat Part” – ScHoolboy Q ft. Kanye West

This should be Desiigner’s award because really “Panda” is the biggest song of 2016 alongside “One Dance” by Drake and it is better than the rest on this list. “Pop Style” is hardly a world beater of a track and “THat Part” is ruined by Kanye’s verse. It would be nice to see a ScHoolboy Q or Chance The Rapper win but I am sure Desiigner will provide us with a wonderful acceptance speech.

Best Rap/Sung Performance

  • “Freedom” – Beyonce ft. Kendrick Lamar
  • “Hotline Bling” – Drake
  • “Broccoli” – D.R.A.M. ft. Lil Yachty
  • “Ultralight Beam” – Kanye West ft. Chance The Rapper, Kelly Price, Kirk Franklin & The-Dream
  • “Famous” – Kanye West ft. Rihanna

It would be highly controversial if “Famous” won given the Taylor Swift line but my god would it be funny. Any of these would be worthy winners really but I think “Hotline Bling” will take it because of the widespread listening it got and the memes that were created from it. I would like D.R.A.M. and Yachty to win it, though because I have an unhealthy obsession with that song and would love to see Yachty do the Dougie on stage like he said he would.

Best Rap Song

  • “All The Way Up” – Fat Joe & Remy Ma ft. French Montana & Infared
  • “Famous” – Kanye West ft. Rihanna
  • “Hotline Bling” – Drake
  • “Ultralight Beam” – Kanye West ft. Chance The Rapper, Kelly Price, Kirk Franklin & The-Dream
  • “No Problem” – Chance The Rapper ft. 2 Chainz & Lil Wayne

This is an interesting one because in terms of a song, I can see “No Problem” taking it which would be such a huge achievement for Chance but I could also see “Ultralight Beam” winning it thanks mainly to Chance’s verse in all honesty. “Hotline Bling” is another contender and it will be close, I want “Ultralight Beam” to win but I think it will be “Hotline Bling”

Best Rap Album

  • Coloring Book – Chance The Rapper
  • The Life Of Pablo – Kanye West
  • And The Anonymous Nobdoy – De La Soul
  • Major Key – DJ Khaled
  • Views – Drake
  • Blank Face LP – ScHoolboy Q

This is a two horse race if it were down to me, it is between Chance and Kanye and I think I would just edge it Kanye’s way but I wouldn’t be ashamed to give it to Chance at all because ‘Coloring Book’ was stunning. But it isn’t my choice, because this is the Grammy’s I am anticipating a Drake victory to crown the most undeserved Album Of The Year award in years. Again I would love to see ScHoolboy take it but I think he will just come short.

 

Notable absences:

  • Travis Scott – Birds In The Trap Sing McKnight
  • KAYTRANADA – 99.9%
  • Danny Brown – Atrocity Exhibiton

My mental health story

Sat alone in the communal room of my student halls on a cold November night, until the early hours of the AM, I didn’t know where to turn. I had hit the worst and lowest point of my 18 year existence on this earth and had no idea what would fix my wounded mind. I felt trapped in my own skin and wanted to escape, I wanted freedom and peace at last from this wretched psychological path. As every passing minute went by the tears continued to flow and my heart continued to sank, the worst part about all of this? I had absolutely no idea why I felt this bad.

There was no specific detail about that day, or even those past couple of weeks which triggered my mindset to slump so drastically. I was going about my student life in a typical way, going to lectures and having a laugh with some good friends, how did I end up in a 5am strike of crisis?

Well the answer it would seem is now simple. Mental health, something that before then I’d only heard mentioned in extreme cases, cases of suicide or cases of insanity, but not for me? Surely not. I kept kidding myself that I wasn’t in danger of having a mental health issue but the reality of it is, millions of people suffer, more than you’d ever want to imagine.

After a long night/day’s sleep I sat and thought to myself what was the best thing to do, I had no idea. Who should I tell first? Whoever I tell won’t believe me, if they knew me well enough they’d know I was the last person you’d expect to have something like that. So I sat and suffered in silence for a bit longer; quite possibly the worst thing you can do is be quiet about it and assume it’ll sort itself out. More and more late nights of fear and disappointment rolled in, feeling like a let down and an embarrassment to my family and friends.

That was until one night that changed my life. I spoke to a girl who just listened to what I had to say over the phone, she embraced it all and gave me incredible advice, the whole night seems a blur now because for the first time in so long, I was smiling without forcing it, I was enjoying my time.

There was still a long way to go, I hadn’t even seen a doctor yet so I wasn’t sure if I was actually a sufferer or not. After the girl convinced me to go away I went and the relief was there. I’ll cut it short and tell you that I was diagnosed with a strand of depression but was told that it seemed worse because it had all rushed to me at the same time. I knew that with the right support I’d break through this.

So I still needed to tell my parents, quite possibly the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do. On reflections I’d do things differently, but I just wanted one of them to know. I text mum on New Year’s Eve in general conversation and eventually got around to telling her. I know, over text. Understandably the whole thing seemed quite bizarre and far fetched to her and she started to panic. That was the last thing I wanted her to do, I felt awful inside for scaring her with it but I felt fairly good for getting it out there. Me and dad had possibly the deepest conversation we have ever had and it resulted in a lot of tears, but I think telling my parents has made me a stronger person and helped me overcome a lot of trials and tribulations.

So anyway, I’d like to say a bit about this girl, and if you know we well enough, you’ll now know her as Beth, my girlfriend of 10 months. She saved me from the abyss that night. At my lowest ebb she was there, when I felt lost with nowhere to go, she was there. We just spoke for hours and hours about everything and I’ve never felt more comfortable in the presence of someone else but that’s what she had, this mesmerising ability to put my mind at ease and forget about the demons in my head. I love her so much and don’t know what I’d do without her.

So, where am I with I think all now? Almost a year on from my first really scary encounter with my mental health, I can assure you that I’m at a stage in my life where the future is bright, the things I see in front of me are colourful and the people I have around me are absolute gems, ones I wouldn’t change for anyone. Thank you so much to everyone who’s sat and listened to me at any point of my life, thank you to those who have been there for me through thick and thin. Thank you to my parents for being the most incredible mum and dad I could ever imagine, picking me up when I’m down and helping me to realise the potential I have. Last but not least, thank you to Beth, for making it feel like someone cared, for putting me first, for being perfect in every way and for putting up with me and my ways for all this time.

Thank you for reading my insight and personal experience with mental health, please don’t feel alone and suffer in silence, there are millions of sufferers just like you and there are plenty of people who can help you when you need it.

Ellis x