Sunday, 30 October 2016
‘Zayn Malik got more than 80 virgins on him/ There’s more than one direction to get to paradise’
That’s just one of many jaw-droppingly ace bars on this new album from MC Riz and Heems (aka Swet Shop Boys). Joining forces from across the pond, the British Four Lions actor and US Das Racist member make for a formidable duo, taking hip hop’s use as a vehicle for black struggles, and excitingly applying it to the struggles of their own ethnic minority – brown people.
From racial profiling to terrorism, every social issue and negative stereotype that their ethnicity faces is tackled head on within the terse half-hour running time of this album. All of it is done with a witty sense of humour and an ear for a banging beat, preventing their music from simply being preachy social activism, but rather riveting entertainment with the added bonus of a radical message.
Like Run the Jewels, the pair’s winning formula is the result of their two polar opposite styles - the creatively cryptic vs the boldly blunt. MC Riz’s bars rely on the former, self-describing himself on ‘Phone tap’ as spitting ‘paan like it’s Panama Papers’. His bars are a maze of cultural references, the clever humour of which becomes apparent after researching them. Contrastingly, Heems’ bars often require no unpicking, equally comical but instead through their sheer simplicity and ridiculous straightforwardness: ‘I am a cool guy, I’m good at rapping/ get on the beat, murk it and then ask what happened’.
Together, they balance one another out, Riz adding depth, whilst Heems contributes clarity. In fact, the only tracks that suffer are the ones where one part of the duo is missing. Some much needed wit from Riz would have made up for the horrible autotuned ‘you already know brother’ hook and choice to rhyme ‘Bombay’ with ‘Bombay’ on Heems’ solo effort ‘Swish Swish’. Meanwhile, some loopy inflections from Heems might have lightened the sombre mood and made up for the boring chorus on Riz’s lone venture ‘Half Moghul, Half Mowgli’.
Thankfully the large bulk of the album sees them sticking together and employing their combined talents, making for some solid songs. And the instrumentals are all creative and hard-hitting, sampling Banghra and Bollywood scores in keeping with the record's sense of racial identity resulting in the rattling ‘Aaja’ and groovy ‘Tiger Hologram’. Western hip hop and Asian music have been mixed before, but never so inventively.
However, by far the most revolutionary part of the Swet Shop Boys music is their ability to unite brown people of all religions and nationalities under one roof lyrically. From Muslims (‘no pork on my fork, no swine while I dine’) to Sihks (‘my shoes off at the Gurdwara’), from Turks (stopping refugees is just silly blud/ well you know about Aeneas in the Iliad) to Hindi Indians (‘Trying to give Shivani a stack for Rahki’), from British Asians (‘what you mean Her Majesty’s London? Where you think all her majesty come from’) to American Asians (‘the NYPD ain’t nothing but Nazis’), all brown people are accounted for in the duo’s quest for equality.
Friday, 28 October 2016
Music Related Junk is back! I've been away for a month, travelling the galaxy, but now I've returned. You can put your 'welcome home' banners away. To make up for all the ‘tracks of the week’ sections I’ve missed during my absence from this blog, I’ve decided to do a special 'tracks of the month' segment. Lots of fun music to get through. Are you sitting comfortably?
‘Well Done’ – Idles
Is that a piss stain on his trousers? And did he really just say he’d rather cut his nose off than listen to reggae? This Bristol band are punk-as-fuck and I love it! Eager to shake up the Tarquins and Mary Berrys of this world, their humour and musicianship makes them a force to be reckoned with. I’ll certainly be stalking them on social media from now on. Well done!
‘Cool’ – Coaster
With its deliberately sloppy grungy guitars and warbling out-of-control vocals, this track feels like it may fall apart at any moment, but the Chicago rockers somehow manage to keep it on track, even if it is careening on two wheels. Prefer your music to be a smooth ride? Buy a stairlift.
‘Church/ Liquor Store’ – Saba ft. Noname & Akenye
‘Funeral home, church, church, liquor store’. If Saba sounds like’s simply listing random buildings during the hook, that’s because, well, he is. Inspired by sights on a bus ride through his local neighbourhood, you really get a feel of how tired the Chicago rapper is with the state of the streets and the repetitive nature of it all. The beat helps to encapsulate this sense of melancholy lethargy. Which in less arty-farty terms means this beat is fire bro!
‘MoonJuice’ – DAHNA
No point overthinking this track. 'Moonjuice' is tasty, hypnotic soul that’ll get your loins buzzing. I’m also loving the psychotropic make-up game that this singer has going on. Fans of DAHNA’s sound ought to check out her brand new EP on Bandcamp.
‘WiFi’ – D.R.A.M ft. Erykah Badu
Gotta say, Erykah Badu is quite a encouraging step up from collaborating with the likes of Lil Yachty and Young Thug. Yes, it is a song about WiFi, and yes its corny and a little bit ridiculous, but I can’t help but fall for the overwhelmingly positive vibes that this Virginia hip hop artist seems to radiate with. If his music were any more sunshiny, I might have to consider putting some factor 50 lotion on.
‘Lonely World’ – Moses Sumney
Everything about this track seems fresh. Moses’s uniquely sweet voice. The sprawling soul instrumentation courtesy of funk bassist Thundercat and Animals as Leaders guitarist Tosin Abasi. It almost feels like the singer has stumbled upon an entirely new genre. Sumneywave? Mosescore? You heard it here first…
‘Party Like A Russian’ – Robbie Williams
Admittedly, the ‘dance like you’ve got concussion’ line kind of only feels like it was put in there because it rhymes with ‘Russian’. Nonetheless, this is daring stuff topically – pop culture's much needed dig at Putin, even if Robbie claims it isn’t aimed at him. The chorus is catchy, ‘the bank inside a car inside a plane inside a boat’ is fun and what better sample to use as an instrumental than Profokiev’s ‘Dance of the Knights’.
‘Pen Pineapple Apple Pen’ – Piko Taro
Too lyrically complex and philosophically heavy for my liking…
‘Go 4 it’ – Corey Feldman ft. Snoop Dogg
Childhood fame definitely does funny things to people. Just look at Macaulay Culkin and his pizza-themed cover band of The Velvet Underground. Still, I’ll take that any day over this awkward abomination from ex-Goonies star Corey Feldman. It's like listening to some ugly crossbreed between Dave Mustaine and Skrillex. He's trying so hard to be ‘down-with-the-kids’ I’m surprised he didn’t start dropping the n-word and throwing out gang signs. And Snoop really will jump on anything. Does he have no shame?
Thursday, 27 October 2016
The Divine Feminine wants to be a love album, or a feminist album, I’m not entirely sure which. Instead it ends up being a graphic ode to Mac Miller’s sex life. Thankfully the soul beats are dangerously gorgeous enough to distract from most of it.
Who is Pomo? And who is Frank Dukes? From the delicate pianos of ‘Congratulations’, to the smooth funk of ‘Dang!’ to the squelchy synth arrangement of ‘Soulmate’, The Divine Feminine feels like a masterclass in graceful beatsmithing, even if I haven’t heard of a single one of the producers featured in the credits.
And Mac certainly knows how to draw the best out of his vocal guests. Anderson Paak delivers one of his most effortlessly smooth hooks to date on ‘Dang!’. Cee Lo Green sounds so breathy on ‘We’ you can practically feel him exhaling against your skin. And Ariana Grande has clearly saved her most sensual performance to date for her bf Mac on ‘My Favourite Part’. Who knew she could sound so good over 90s-esque r&b?
|Mac Miller and Ariana Grande|
It’s just a shame that Mac Miller is all over this album. Certainly the 24-year-old emcee has composed some brilliant breeze-hop in the past, flaunting his cheeky chappy persona. But hearing him trying to get his Marvin Gaye on just feels awkward. Although he tries to give these classy beats the wine and dine treatment they deserve, his attempts at romance are as convincing as a horny teenager opening his wallet to pay the bill and accidentally letting a condom fall out on the table. Whilst there are some brief soppy lines about 'egg and kale', Mac seems unable to point out many more perks to being in a relationship other than getting laid often. I'm sure that love means more to the rapper than that - he simply can't articulate it. As a result, Mac spends the whole album practically blathering about his obsession with sex in the most basic and crude terms possible, altogether as insightful as porn.
Soul makes great music for making babies to. But it’s also a sophisticated genre to be dealt with in a sophisticated manner. Mac may as well be nutscaping on this album – finding some truly beautiful backdrops and figuratively dangling his testicles over them.
If you can forget Mac Miller is there, and the album’s borderline perfect.
If you can forget Mac Miller is there, and the album’s borderline perfect.