Thursday July 13 2023
Together We Climb: This summer, two of the biggest names in the UK rap scene released a four-track EP “Split Decision”. Dave who has sold the most rap albums in the UK and Central Cee- the biggest UK rapper globally, initially released “Sprinter” which took the world by storm with their music video hitting 8 million views in four days.
In 2020, Skepta, Chip and Young Adz released “Insomnia”. A fuse of three eras of UK rap, including two of the biggest names in the UK grime scene, who paved the wave and contributed to grime’s global appeal. Despite this EP being released during lockdown, it didn’t have the lasting impact it was expected to have.
Across the pond, the US has seen several joint projects over the years, “Savage Mode” by Metro Boomin & 21 Savage, “What a Time to Be Alive” by Drake & Future and, most notably “Watch the Throne” by Jay-Z & Kanye West. The impact these have made on the music scene goes far beyond what our friends in the UK have achieved. Particularly, its memorability but also its production levels and lyricism.
It begs the question if UK collab rap albums are for the hype or for the art.
Rap, hip-hop, and grime fans alike have been lucky enough to see some of the biggest names come together and produce various bodies of art, but sadly the same can’t be said for many other genres. Who would you like to create a collaborative piece of work next?
By: Steph B. ︎
Wednesday July 12 2023
Blaxploitation: Blaxploitation is a genre of movies popularised in the 1,970s and early 80s as a response to the degrading depiction of black people in mainstream film. What made this sub-genre so important is that its main characters were black, independent, proactive, action-packed and had a disregard for authority and an overall level of cool. This was different from roles that showed black people only as support acts and victims of brutality.
As its popularity grew, blaxploitation movies were not only targeted towards its African American audience, it started to gain mainstream appeal and through this supported the betterment of race relations in America.
Despite criticism by the NAACP that the genre portrayed negative stereotypes of the black community, it was the first genre to feature soundtracks of funk and soul music, influenced a genre of film that we see today and depicted black people as heroes; thus providing a powerful message to a population that had been shown otherwise by mainstream media.
By: Ade B. ︎
Teusday July 11 2023
Appropriation of Drag Queens: Before emerging into public consciousness, the subculture spectacle known as drag ballroom culture can be traced to the 19th century, with Hamilton Lodge curating Harlem's first queer masquerade ball in 1869. In the early 1960s, drag balls began to fragment due to racial tensions; the balls had become white-dominated and despite the multiracial population of participants, only white candidates won, while black participants were expected to look 'white passing' just to compete.
By the 1980s, arising out of the racism and prejudice of the white-dominated drag balls, the first New York 'drag house' known as the ‘House of LaBeija’ was created to give a sense of solidarity for marginalised queer people of colour.
Jennie Livingston's acclaimed documentary, 'Paris Is Burning', captured the vibrant atmosphere of ballroom culture and brought a great deal of mainstream exposure for Livingston. However, despite the film generating around $4 million in the box office and becoming critically acclaimed, the drag queens featured were excluded from its success and not sufficiently compensated for their role in the film— to the extent that Octavia St. Laurent, one of the film's main features, was not even notified of the film's release.
The documentary provided a poignant insight into the social group, but scholars argue that Livingston and audiences of a dominant background act as a voyeur exploiting the harsh realities of these individuals' experiences. This accusation subsists because cultural exploitation is contingent on an unequal power dynamic. In this case, Livingston; an educated white lesbian from a Hollywood family — so evidently from a higher social class than her subjects created a documentary on the lives of African and Latino American queer youth, many of whom were of impoverished spaces and failed to sufficiently compensate their participation.
By: Ade B. ︎
I remember Marvin Gaye used to sing to me, He had me feelin' like black was the thing to be.
Monday July 10 2023
Feminism in Hip Hop: In 1970, the late Huey P. Newton, co-founder of the Black Panther Party, wrote an essay admitting that the popularity of hypermasculinity tends to silence women. It is argued by some that hip-hop masculinity is violent and dominant, however, hip-hop femininity is "submissive, hypersexual, and holds a secondary position to their masculine counterparts". However, as time has gone on pioneers like Queen Latifah, Lil Kim and Lauryn Hill have all, in their own ways portrayed a dominant, hyperfeminine image of themselves through media.
Women gender performance in hip hop has significantly progressed, but hip hop is still an unequally gendered genre. In response to hypermasculinity in hip hop and the derogatory use of the word bitch, rappers have in turn embraced the word and cultivated the "bad bitch era" as a form of resistance. Similar to how words like ‘Nigga’ have been flipped to a terms of endearment.
A space has been created where; "one finds both clearly articulated feminisms as well as dominance".
By: Ade B. ︎
Sunday July 9 2023
Chopped and Screwed: Chopped and screwed is a technique of remixing hip hop music that developed in the Houston hip hop scene in the early 1990s by DJ Screw.
The screwed technique involves slowing the tempo of a song down to 60 and 70 quarter-note beats per minute and applying techniques such as skipping beats, record scratching, stop-time, and affecting portions of the original composition to create a "chopped-up" version of the song.
In Houston, between 1991 and 1992, there was an increase in the use of lean which many believe contributed to the allure of screw music.
The drug beverage has been considered a major influence on the making and listening of chopped and screwed music due to its perceived effect of slowing the brain down, and giving the slow, mellow music its appeal. The color purple, which is usually present in lean, has also become a symbolic color or motif to identify chopped and screwed versions of songs or whole albums.
By: Ade B. ︎
Saturday July 8 2023
Why J.Cole Let Nas Down: "Work Out" by J Cole was an attempt to make a commercial friendly song. It would become a highly successful lead single from his debut album, peaking within the number 13 on the Billboard Hot 100 and ultimately bringing the attention required to promote his album but unfortunately cost him some creditibitly amongst some hip hop purists. Following its release as a single, J. Cole received a phone call from his mentor, producer No ID. No ID told Cole that he was in the studio with Nas, and that Nas had told him that he hated the song "Work Out".
Cole was devastated upon hearing that, which made him write the tribute song to his idol, "Let Nas Down" the following year. Less than a week after creating and recording the song, Cole ran into Nas at a Houston airport at six in the morning boarding the same flight as him. As fate would have it Nas would be sitting right behind him on the flight, so right away Cole played the song for him. Nas felt honored by the song and was very impressed by it.
Shortly before the release of Born Sinner Nas began work on a remix to the song. On June 24, 2013 the song "Made Nas Proud" was released. Throughout the song Nas details the situation from his side and praises Cole, being understanding of the importance of having commercial songs.
By: Ade B. ︎
We are all here for a reason on a particular path. You don't need a curriculum to know that you are part of the math.
Friday July 7 2023
Why a Seat at the Table Matters: "A Seat at the Table" by Solange Knowles is widely praised for providing an honest lyrical depiction of the struggles, joy, resilience and hope that comes from being a Black person in America and a member of the diaspora throughout the Western world. The album tells a story and explores the historical experience of African-Americans and how they have impacted the present experience.
Solange ensures that the album would be a lyrical body of her history by producing the album in New Iberia, Louisiana. Solange moved to and created 'A Seat at the Table' as it was the home of her grandparents before they were forced to leave their home and escape the town. Solange coming back to connect with her roots and record her project was Solange's way of reclaiming the seat for those who passed and those who have yet to live.
From the very first song 'Rise' to the last song 'Closing: The Chosen People' Solange creates a storybook of the African-American perspective from a personal and historical standpoint.
The album opens with 'Rise' which acts as an opening introduction to the album. Rise is the first song that expresses a need to know where you came from to understand where you are coming from. To understand the trials and tribulations of your personal and historical experience in order to navigate the world, heal and grow.
By: Manisha C. ︎
Thursday July 6 2023
Lil Wayne’s ‘Don’t Get It’: The Carter III is undeniably one of the best rap albums of all time. It featured classic records such as 'A Milli', 'Lollipop', 'Got Money', and 'Mrs Officer' which were all released as singles and charted in the top 20 on the Billboard Hot 100. At the time of its release, Lil Wayne was in rare form, his mixtapes were sought after like albums, his feature verses were extraordinary, and his label 'Young Money' was heating up. Everything he touched turned to gold.
For me, the standout track of the album was the last one, number 16, "Dontgetit". The record about 10 mins long has only two verses where Lil Wayne actually raps, the rest is just a stream of consciousness, a monologue in which he speaks about systematic racism, the prison industrial complex and his problems with Al Sharpton. I can remember listening to it for the first time and although being a teenager unable to fully understand what he was talking about, I still felt that as though I was listening to something special. It was almost as if you were a fly on the wall, this record was clearly not rehearsed or intended to be what it came out as.
What has made me appreciate this song is how relevant it is to the world we live in today. Explaining the disproportionate differences in jail time given to black people caused by laws that punish crack dealers in comparison to cocaine dealers. Highlighting that despite it being the same drug, because crack is found mostly in lower-income neighbourhoods it carries a longer prison sentence.
I don't think Lil Wayne gets enough credit for this song, it was an informative and socially conscious record but delivered in his own unique style. Although it is understandable, his recent comments on the BLM movement and his endorsement of Donald Trump have unfortunately contradicted everything the record is about.
By: Ade B. ︎
Wednesday July 5 2023
Fela Kuti and The Afrika Shrine: Fela Kuti was one of the most influential artists in Nigeria during his time, his music challenged corruption, police brutality and the political sins committed by the government. He was a mouthpiece for the ordinary Nigerian, unapologetic in his lyrics and lifestyle, disliked by authority but loved by the people.
Fela first began performing at The Afrika Shrine in 1971. The Shrine was not only a gig venue for the Afrobeat's founder but was also a space for Fela to speak on political matters, pay homage to the ancestors and gods, unite people from all walks of life and challenge the social norms expected of people at the time.
It gained a notorious reputation as the militarised government were greatly opposed to Fela and had been engaged in a number of violent incidents involving Fela and his family around this time. In 1977 it was raided by police and soldiers attacked and burnt it down. Although the majority of Nigerians were proud supporters of Fela and his Kalakuta republic, there were people that sided with the government.
Nowadays it's been renamed the 'New Afrika Shrine' and hosts the annual Felabration festival in honour of it's original founder Fela Kuti. Celebrating his legacy and reminded us of his legend.
By: Ade B. ︎
Don't touch my hair, when it's the feelings I wear. Don't touch my soul, when it's the rhythm I know.
Teusday July 4 2023
Evolution of Album Art: In the digital streaming era, the artwork that accompanies albums no longer act as attention grabbers in an attempt to increase sales in the way they did with physical copies. Despite the improvement of resources to create the digital art that exists today, I’d argue that the creative effort put into album artwork in the CD and Vinyl-era made for better covers. Here are a few that I’d like to highlight in appreciation of times past.
By: Ade B. ︎
Monday July 3 2023
The Changing Landscape of Major Labels, Are They Becoming Obsolete?: The music industry has traditionally viewed signing with a major label as the ultimate achievement for artists. However, the rise of social media and the empowered "woke" generation has challenged this perception. In the past, signing one major contract could significantly expand an artist's reach, but now a single viral video can achieve the same effect.
Major labels enticed artists with upfront money, global contacts, and resources, but these advantages came at a cost. Artists were expected to sign contracts that often compromised their financial income, musical ownership, and creative control. Expenses such as songwriters, marketing, and producers had to be paid from the artist's share of profits, which was typically unevenly distributed. In essence, signing with a major label was akin to taking out an overpriced bank loan, providing opportunities without guaranteeing long-term success.
On the other hand, independent artists have embraced self-sufficiency. They build their own audience, market themselves, and retain creative autonomy. Social media platforms like TikTok have reduced gatekeeping and allowed artists to connect directly with consumers. Accessible information and data analytics enable artists to gauge fan preferences and make informed decisions about their careers.
Major labels have commodified artists, often to the detriment of their well-being and long-term success. Some artists have spoken out about mistreatment, while others have been signed without adequate support systems. False marketing through paid campaigns and manipulated streaming numbers also harm artists' careers.
Ownership and royalties remain key factors in the music industry. Major labels often acquire the master rights to recordings, affecting royalty distribution. However, the trend of self-made artists owning their music and leveraging social media has gained momentum. Artists like Raye have demonstrated the power of commodifying individuality and seizing creative control, achieving remarkable success without major label support.
In conclusion, major labels are still prominent in the music industry, but their relevance is being questioned. Adjusting deals and growing artist awareness indicate that major labels may need to adapt to survive. The future longevity of major labels rests on their ability to recognize the changing dynamics and prioritize artists' interests. Only time will tell how long major labels will maintain their hold on the music industry.
By: Stephanie G. ︎