Monday, 29 January 2018

Is Asian Hip Hop About To Become Huge In The West?

The west has never really embraced Asian music. Sure, there are a few diehard weeaboos out there that could probably tell you every song right now in the Japanese charts. But the majority of us know only novelty hits like PSY’s ‘Gangnam Style’ and perhaps an anime soundtrack or two.

It seems however that things are about to change. Asian music if finally starting to break into the west – and it’s mostly hip hop. Asian rappers are appropriating the sounds of the west, but they’re also throwing in their own local influence.

One such rapper is Indonesian emcee Rich Brian (formerly known as ‘Rich Chigga’). He first attracted widespread attention in 2016 with his video for ‘Dat $tick,’ which sees him boldly choosing to wear a pink polo shirt and fanny bag whilst spitting mean bars over a hard-hitting trap beat.

The video has amassed over 80 million views and prompted the likes of Ghostface Killah to get in touch for a collaborative remix. Rich Brian’s humorous personality has only led him to become more successful, taking to Twitter to write hilarious posts and creating a number of wacky Youtube videos, including one in which he microwaves bread and proceeds to stare awkwardly into the camera.

Rich Brian isn’t the only Asian hip hop artist making waves right now. Another artist is Japanese-Australian rapper Joji – formerly known as the youtuber Filthy Frank who has birthed a number of memes including creating the crazy dance to the Harlem Shake back in 2013. Only recently has he got more serious as a musician under the pen-name Joji.

It’s easy to see why both artists have blown up, given that they both rap largely in English and are as much comedians as they are musicians. However, other artists are now starting to blow up that rely less on being memes, whilst rapping largely in their native tongue such as Chinese rap group Higher Brothers. Their biggest hit is ‘Made In China’ - which jokes about the fact Western audiences refuse to listen to Chinese rap due to the language barrier. 

Meanwhile in New York, female artists such as Yaeji are spitting in English and Korean. Her glossy bangers blend rapping and singing, whilst her geeky-girl image is entirely unique. Like Rich Chigga, she’s reinventing swag and showing that ‘realness’ can mean ‘being yourself’ – you don’t have to be gangster from the projects to be considered real.

The influence is starting to have a reverse effect already and rappers from the West are teaming up with Asian rappers and borrowing beats and lingo. Just listen to this loud posse cut featuring the likes of A$AP Ferg...

Is this the beginning of an Asian revolution in western rap? Will we be hearing these kind of songs on the radio soon? It would certainly seem the language is no longer a barrier. We've already got half-Spanish singles like 'Despacito' dominating the airwaves, plus it's not as if most Western rappers are particularly lyrical is it?  It could be an exciting new direction for popular music as a whole. 

Saturday, 27 January 2018

BEST AND WORST NEW TRACKS OF THE WEEK 27/01/2018: Jack White, A$AP Rocky, Justin Timberlake and more...

Jack White embraces electronica and Justin Timberlake goes country.


‘Respect Commander’ & ‘Corporation’ – Jack White

Bluesy singer/guitarist Jack White has been doing some pretty audacious stuff recently, including banning phones from his live shows. He’s also released two experimental, largely instrumental new singles that seem to be pushing rock in new directions. ‘Respect Commander’ opens with sped up drums, orchestra hits and electronica before transforming into a muddy blues rock anthem. ‘Corporation’ meanwhile centres around a groovy riff that sounds like something between Deep Purple and Steely Dan, closing with some eerie shrieking and rambling about corporations. It’s not stuff for your average rock fan - it's weird and straight up my alley.

‘Window’ – Christian Besa Wright

With it’s lazy guitars and layers of sunny vocal harmonies, this track from LA singer-songwriter Christian Besa Wright is as soothing as a summer’s day. It’s what’s needed to cheer up these miserable winter months.

 ‘QYURRYUS' - The Voidz

The Voidz, fronted by Julian Casablancas of The Strokes, have been releasing increasingly more bizarre songs. Their latest song sounds like a synthwave war chant topped with squealing guitars and even some autotuned warbling towards the end. When it comes to weird moments of the week, it's up there with Oprah Winfrey's third hand and that Sting/Shaggy collaboration (which wasn't good or bad enough to feature in this week's selection). 


☆☆☆☆☆ 5IVE $TAR$’ – A$AP Rocky

This is distinctly average music from the flamboyant rapper. Three stars would have been generous. Where is Rocky’s energy? He sounds like he’s just had a rough night’s sleep in a one star hotel.

‘Say Something’ – Justin Timberlake ft. Chris Stapleton

Timberlake seems to be going for a more mature country/gospel sound here and, well, it’s bland. Chris Stapleton’s vocals are the most interesting thing about this song and that’s saying something. 

Wednesday, 17 January 2018

Review of 'Revival' by Eminem

The new Eminem album is a disaster.

It’s usually a bad sign whenever Eminem titles an album Re-something. Both Relapse and Recovery were big duds in the rap icons’s career. Then the Marshall Mathers LP 2 came along in 2013 and seemed to restore Eminem’s legacy – whilst I may have been a little forgiving of the corny choruses and bland beats in my review, the album had enough head-spinning flows and choppy rhyming to make up for it.

Sadly, Revival is a big backward step – Regression would have been a better name for it. It’s not that Eminem isn’t trying new things. He boldly addresses race politics, spends a whole track attacking Trump and even incorporates some trap-flavoured beats into the mix. He even takes the brave step to confess about the way he used to treat his ex Kim, having spent numerous tracks in the past throwing death threats at her. All of this, I respect – but why is it all so badly executed?

Honestly, I like a good bit of Trump-bashing, but ‘Like Home’ is just Em spewing out insults we already thought up ourselves, peppered by corny puns such as ‘Like a dictionary, things are looking up’. This isn’t even the corniest line on the album – this award has to go to ‘I’m looking at your tight rear like a sightseer/ your booty is heavy doody like diarrhoea’, which had me sighing out loud.

The lyrics aren’t the only source of corniness. Hearing Eminem pull out a trap rap flow on ‘Chloraseptic’ makes him sound like Migos crossed with a muppet, backed by the blandest trap beat available so that the whole thing sounds like a parody. Then there are the multiple rock instrumentals as on ‘Remind Me’ and ‘Heat’, which only serve to make each track sound like some terribly dated Beastie Boys song. Then of course there are the countless mushy choruses from guest pop stars such as Ed Sheeran and Beyonce, taking away any intimacy from Em’s bars (there’s even a track almost entirely dedicated to Pink - is this really what Eminem thinks his fans want?).

The rapper might have created a less messy album is he hadn’t tried to appeal to so many audiences at once. He seems to be out to impress everyone from mainstream pop fans to rock fans, whilst covering subject matter as expansive as sociopolitics to poop jokes. There are so many incarnations of Eminem on this album that it’s like listening to a compilation album, when all you want is the real slim shady.

It’s irritating, because there are glimpses of brilliance on Revival that could have been the entire premises of the album. If all the tracks were like ‘Bad Husband’ and ‘Like Home’ without the corny choruses and corny lines, this could have been Eminem’s long-awaited grown-up-rapper album – similar to the recent confessional Jay-Z album. Alternatively, I would have loved to have seen an experimental album from Em, as the track ‘Offended’ gives us a taster of. The crazy rhyme schemes, avant-garde beat and playful nursery rhyme chorus show that Eminem still has the talent and innovation in him. Even the celebrity disses in this track are funny (I chuckled at ‘like R Kelly with a full bladder’). A whole album of similar songs probably wouldn’t have got much radio airplay, but it would have impressed people enough to restore his legacy. Instead we’re left with a tin of corn with bad beats and no focus. 


Friday, 12 January 2018

BEST AND WORST NEW TRACKS OF THE WEEK 12/01/2018: Halo Maud, Tune-Yards, Gibberish and more...

Celebrate the new year by bumping these fresh new tunes in your car whilst a newly recruited Logan Paul serves you at the drive-thru.


‘Baptism’ – Halo Maud

This French indie singer-songwriter could be mistaken for a child with her eerily high-pitched vocal tone. The spellbinding harmonies from the backup singers and strange Wicca dancing in the video make it all the more hypnotic (the French seem to love zonked-out dancing in music videos).

‘Heart Attack’ – Tune-Yards

Speaking of wacky dancing, art-popper Merrill Garbus (AKA Tune-Yards) has a new upbeat single out titled ‘Heart Attack’ accompanied by a video containing all kinds of freaky moves. With it’s rhythmic claps and identifiable chorus it’s one of Merrill’s more straightforward songs to date.

‘Yellow’ – Tiedye Ky

The sexy synth chords opening the track immediately lulled me in, but it’s at 1:17 that the song enters a whole new dimension with those detuned stabs. ‘Yellow’ is one of multiple tracks named after colours on the Philly singer-producer’s new EP Color Palettes.

‘Feet Wet’ – Gibberish

‘Feet Wet’ takes you through a hazy mist of ghostly guitars, vaporous vocals and spacey synthesizers. A pounding drum pushes the song along further into the psychedelic fog. The LA band have a new record out titled Kneehigh.

‘Weather’ – Adrian Underhill

Canadian singer-songwriter Adrian Underhill displays an eccentric mixture of sounds on his new single ‘Weather’. I particularly like raw drum loop in the background. It shouldn’t fit with the warm piano and digital synth bass, but surprisingly it all blends together beautifully like Turkey and cranberry sauce (as opposed to pineapple on pizza - the food of the devil).  


‘This is Me’ - Kesha

I was never a Kesha fan, but I’ll take her squawky dance tunes any day over these try-hard epic pop ballads.  

Friday, 5 January 2018

Review of 'No-one Ever Really Dies' by N.E.R.D

N.E.R.D are back sporting a less poppy, more political Pharrell Williams.

Alternative hip hop/funk/rock/whatever-genre-they-can-throw-at-the-canvas group N.E.R.D formed in 1999. Their last album was released in 2010, after which frontman Pharrell moved on to get involved in a number of pop hits including Daft Punk collaboration ‘Get Lucky’, solo single ‘Happy’ and more recently a Calvin Harris hit ‘Feels’ featuring Katy Perry and Big Sean.

Having made his millions as a mainstream artist, Pharrell has now decided to reform with his ex-N.E.R.D members to get back in touch with his alternative side. Chad Hugo is back providing extra production and instrumentation, whilst Shay Haley is also doing his thing (what exactly does Shay Haley do again?). It’s the comeback album N.E.R.D fans have been waiting for, only it doesn’t feel much like a traditional N.E.R.D album at all.

For one, the rock flavourings have gone. It’s all highly-polished digital sounds on No-One Ever Dies with a heavier hip hop influence more similar to Pharrell’s early Neptunes work. There are rumblings of digital sub-bass and spiky synth chords on almost every track giving it a definite style. Almost every song also contains a beat change to makes things grippingly unpredictable from the groovy breakdown of ‘Lemon’ to the full-on trippy metamorphosis of ‘ESP’. Occasionally songs get a little too cluttered such as on ‘1000’. And whilst many of the abrupt beat changes come as a fun surprise, a few slow transitions here and there might have helped to make the production a little less start/stop.

As for the vocal performances, Pharrell gives his shaky falsettos a break for a more varied delivery. At times it veers off into cartoonish territory (I can picture him voicing a talking animal in a Disney movie at points), but it aids the animated beats in most cases. Some of the tracks are party anthems, but there are also some great political rallies on this record such as ‘Don’t don’t do it’, which explores the lose-lose situation of racial profiling and anti-Trump tune ‘Deep Down Body Thurst’.

The guest stars are well placed for the most part too. I rolled my eyes at the boastful parade of big names such as Rihanna and Ed Sheeran, but both artists actually meld well into their respective songs. Who knew Rihanna could rap? Or that Ed Sheeran could sound tasteful on a trap-reggae beat? Kendrick Lamar and Andre 3000 are reliable as always, even if Kendrick’s encore on ‘Kites’ feels a little excessive. The only disappointing guest is Future, whose auto-tuned warbling isn’t welcome on any album I listen to, but sounds especially hideous on the already ugly ‘1000’.

With all comeback albums, the biggest question is always ‘do they still sound relevant?’. In the case of N.E.R.D, they certainly succeed on this album and not just because we’re so used to hearing Pharrell on the airwaves. The guests are all current and expertly placed and the beats are thrillingly innovative despite being occasionally messy. It might not sound much like the group’s traditional sound, but it’s all the better for it.