Posts in Entertainment
Don't make the same mistake walking into Avengers: Endgame that you did with Infinity War

10 years after Jon Favreau’s Iron Man kickstarted what would become the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Marvel Studios’ most ambitious crossover, Avengers: Infinity War served as the culmination of a decade of world-building. It’s the crown jewel for comic book fans and those who embarked on the cinematic journey from the beginning (If you weren’t in tune with the MCU but went through the first 18 films prior to seeing Infinity War, welcome aboard! It’s good to have you!)

The critically-acclaimed film broke box office records, and became the talk of the summer on social media (today’s water cooler). But in accordance with the established, universal laws of enjoyment, there were some who didn’t obsess over the third Avengers film. I’m all for disliking things; healthy criticism promotes debate & it helps with the growth of any medium/artist, but it has to have merit. Which brings us to the most ridiculous condemnation of Infinity War…

“Why do I have to watch the other MCU movies to fully understand Infinity War?”

Let me start by being blunt… it’s a ridiculous question. You can’t complain when you chose to enter the saga 19 films in. Nobody said you had to be there from the beginning or spend every waking moment thinking about the universe, but to willingly ignore them before seeing Infinity War and using your lack of preparedness to complain is moronic. Keep crying about it. YOUR TEARS NOURISH ME!

I’m a firm believer that there’s an opposing reaction to everything. While I’m absolutely certain that a portion of those who subscribed to this asinine critique were actually ignorant enough to think they could drop in and be spoon fed everything, I also think there’s another reason this happened: people erroneously believed Infinity War was a direct sequel. It picks up in the timeline directly following Thor: Ragnarok and brings seeds that were planted as far back as 2012’s The Avengers. The plot centers around Thanos’ search for the six infinity stones, five of which have appeared in various MCU movies over the course of the last 10 years. Yes, sometimes sequels tend to contain quick re-introductions for all the base players but, again, INFINITY WAR IS NOT A SEQUEL; It is the 19th issue of an ongoing series.

The 18 that were released before it - a few stand-alone installments aside - were integral to the film’s completion. The MCU operates much like typical comic book crossover events that are set up by issues contained within individual character’s runs. There’s a list of specific titles that you can use to obtain enough surface level knowledge needed to understand Infinity War , but the full effect is only felt by having seen all of them. There is no logical reason to believe you’ll comprehend it if you’ve seen none of them, though. If you’re hell bent on considering a sequel, then the most honest way to do that is to believe it’s a sequel to every single film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe that came before it. That holds infinitely more truth than it being a direct sequel to any one release.

Since I’m a humanitarian who genuinely believes in helping people and not because this entire “critique” has annoyed me far more than the narrative that Drake has classic album (editor’s note: Nothing Was the Same exists), I write this piece to all of you as an disclaimer. We are just months away from the release of Avengers: Endgame, which is intended to wrap up phase 3 of the MCU & close out important storylines 10 years in the making. It’s been rumored for a while now that there might be a time travel element to the film that will have our heroes revisiting previous incidents. If you haven’t AT LEAST watched the most vital entry’s in the MCU, then you’re gonna be even more lost walking out of Endgame. Please do not go see Captain Marvel and walk into Avengers because you think it’s the next one in line. I really don’t want to have this conversation again.

Ball Don't Lie - "Drew Brees Don't Know Choppa Style"

KOLR-10 sports anchor Dan Molloy joins Pierce and Scott this week to talk about the MLB hot stove and the White Sox pursuit of Manny Machado. Plus Dan's been covering the Kansas City Chiefs all year, so we'll get his thoughts on Championship Sunday, the Bears possibly signing Kareem Hunt, the trailer for Spider-Man: Far From Home and much much more!

White Sox offer contract to Manny Machado
Possible collusion in MLB
Odds Manny signs with White Sox
Bears end-of-season press conference
Chuck Pagano hired as DC
Cody Parkey's future in Chicago
Nagy not shooting down Kareem Hunt to Bears
AFC Title Game preview
NFC Title Game preview
Kyler Murray declaring for NFL Draft
James Harden having another MVP season
Kyrie Irving and the Celtics' woes
Spider-Man: Far From Home trailer
Goofy Mog of the Week

Follow Flows on Twitter: @Flowsandolini
Follow Scott on Twitter: @Scott_C-oh yeah...that's right nvm...
Follow Pierce on Twitter: @HennyOmega
Follow Dan on Twitter: @DanMolloyTV
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Celebrate your division champs by grabbing one of the NEW shirts straight from The Barber's Chair merch store!

Nearly Canceled: Entourage drops January 2019 exclusively on the Barber's Chair Patreon! Become a patron of The Barber's Chair on Patreon! $5 a month will get you a thank you on Ball Don't Lie and guarantees you access to Nearly Canceled: Entourage, along with more exclusive premium content from The Barber's Chair!

The most anticipated movies of 2019

2018 brought some gems to the big screen, from box-office superhero smash hits like Black Panther, Avengers: Infinity War, and Aquaman, to critically-acclaimed films like A Star is Born, Annihilation and John Krasinski’s brilliant thriller A Quiet Place. 2019 brings even more buzz to the box office! Here’s the movies we’re looking forward to the most in the new year!

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Release Date: January 18, 2019
Starring: Samuel L. Jackson, James McAvoy, Bruce Willis, Sarah Paulson & Anya Taylor-Joy
Director: M. Night Shyamalan

M. Night Shyamalan had an amazing comeback with 2017's Split, complete with a twist ending that revealed the movie was actually connected to his 2000 supernatural drama, Unbreakable, picking up right where Split left off. James McAvoy shined in Split, and I'm excited to see him act alongside Samuel L. Jackson & Bruce Willis.

Paramount Pictures

Paramount Pictures

What Men Want

Release Date: February 8, 2019
Starring: Taraji P. Henson, Aldis Hodge, Tracy Morgan, Erykah Badu, Wendi McLendon-Covey, Tamala Jones & Josh Brener
Director: Adam Shankman

Our first film of the year with a primarily black cast is a remake of the 2000 romantic comedy, What Women Want starring Mel Gibson. Taraji P. Henson stars as a successful sports agent struggling to navigate her career in a male-dominated field until she mysteriously gains the ability to read men’s minds. The plot is a bit cheesy and has been done before, but this will be a fun watch with Taraji's energy on-screen.

Universal Pictures

Universal Pictures


Release Date: March 22, 2019
Starring: Lupita Nyong'o, Winston Duke, Shahadi Wright-Joseph, Evan Alex, Elisabeth Moss, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II & Tim Heidecker
Director: Jordan Peele

Jordan Peele's back at it again with an ambiguous psychological-horror film in this year's Us. This is Peele's second film after his directorial debut in 2017's Get Out, which won him his first Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay. Get Out was definitely one for the culture and Us will be too. The cast is what excites me the most. Lupita Nyong'o and Winston Duke reunite, this time outside of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, alongside my favorite Handmaid, Elisabeth Moss. Shout out to Yahya for snagging a role in this film after appearing in the billion-dollar blockbuster Aquaman

It wouldn't be a Jordan Peele movie without a trailer leaving much to the internet's imagination; there are even people linking the two movies together. Gotta love twitter, right?

Paramount Pictures

Paramount Pictures

Pet Sematary

Release Date: April 5, 2019
Starring: Jason Clarke, Amy Seimetz, John Lithgow, Jeté Laurence, Hugo Lavoie, Lucas Lavoie & Obssa Ahmed
Director: Kevin Kölsch & Dennis Widmyer

Directors Kevin Kölsch & Dennis Widmyer brings us a reboot of the 1989 film based off the Stephen King novel of the same name with this year's Pet Sematary. The movie surrounds a family who lives near a pet cemetery that lies on an ancient burial ground, bringing its inhabitants back to life in creepy ways. When a child from the family dies and is buried in this spooky ground, he comes back for blood.

I'm really excited to see some quality scary movies this year, starting with this adaptation. 2018 gave us Stephen King's incredibly done Gerald's Game, which debuted on Netflix a month before 1922. Netflix is also coming with the heat with another Stephen King adaptation this year, In The Tall Grass



Avengers: Endgame

Release Date: April 26, 2019
Starring: Robert Downing Jr., Josh Brolin, Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Don Cheadle, Chadwick Boseman & the rest of the damn Avengers
Director: Anthony & Joe Russo

Need I say more? We saw Earth's mightiest heroes get wrecked by Thanos, some even wiped away from existence with the other half of the universe's population in Avengers: Infinity War. Endgame will be the last time we see some of the characters we've come to love since the MCU debuted 10 years ago. I'm sure we'll still be left empty after some of our faves get killed...for good this time.

An interesting note here is the amount of money Disney is going to pull in this year. This is one of six Disney blockbusters coming out this year. I'm confident that EndgameAladdin, Toy Story 2, Frozen 2, Lion King will easily make a billion each. Disney’s really collecting checks like Infinity Stones in 2019, and I'm here for it.




Release Date: May 24, 2019
Starring: Will Smith, Mena Massoud, Naomi Scott, Marwan Kenzri & Navid Negahban
Director: Guy Ritchie

I am extremely excited to see one of my favorite Disney animated movies come to life in this live-action remake. Following the success of live-action versions of the animated classics like Cinderella and Jungle Book, Aladdin will be one for the books and a visually stunning movie to see.

I'm most excited to see what Will Smith will bring to the iconic role of the Genie. He's the perfect actor to bring a breath of fresh air to an already established role made famous by the late Robin Williams. Smith goes a little in-depth about the role in an Entertainment Weekly interview, and talks about recording the song "Friend Like Me" from the movie before he even knew he was accepting the role. Definitely expecting this to make it over the billion-dollar mark barring all positive reception.

20th Century Fox

20th Century Fox

Dark Phoenix

Release Date: June 7, 2019
Starring: James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jessica Chastain, Jennifer Lawrence, Sophie Turner, Nicholas Hoult, Tye Sheridan, Alexandra Shipp, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Evan Peters & Olivia Munn
Director: Simon Kinberg

If you know me, you will know I am a dedicated X-Men stan and will debated your granny about anything X-Men related. 20th Century Fox’s highly controversial re-doing of the iconic Dark Phoenix storyline follows Sophie Turner's Sansa Sta--I mean Jean Grey battling a dark force within her that she succumbs to and splits the X-Men.

Simon Kinberg, longtime producer of the X-Men franchise, will be in the director's seat for the first time, looking to right the wrongs of X-Men: The Last Stand that handled the Dark Phoenix saga so poorly. The Disney-Fox merger is expected to close in March, making Dark Phoenix the first X-Men film to release after the deal is completed. Some fans are happy that Fox will be done with the franchise and some are not. I for one am ready for another X-Men movie, and my hopes are high with Dark Phoenix.



Toy Story 4

Release Date: June 19, 2019
Starring: Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Joan Cusack, Blake Clark, Wallace Shawn, Keegan-Michael Key, Jordan Peele, Keanu Reeves, Estelle Harris & more!
Director: Josh Cooley

When I found out we were getting another Toy StoryI wasn't initially here for it. Toy Story 3 came out a little before I went to college and was the icing on top of my childhood. Why mess with a good thing?

After a brief teaser was released, seeing my favorite toys come to life again had me sold. The movie will follow Woody & the gang on an eye-opening road trip, showing the toys just how big the world is. Add another billion in Disney's pockets with this one.



Spider-Man: Far From Home

Release Date: July 5, 2019
Starring: Tom Holland, Zendaya, Michael Keaton, Jon Favreau, Marisa Tomei, Jacob Batalon, Samuel L. Jackson & Jake Gyllenhaal
Director: Jon Watts

The highly anticipated sequel to 2017's Spider-Man: Homecoming seemingly takes place after the events of Avengers: Endgame. Soooo spoiler, I guess Spidey makes it, huh?

The movie follows Peter Parker and his high school friends on a vacation to Europe where he meets and teams up with Mysterio, played by Jake Gyllenhaal, to battle the Elementals, four immortals with control over natural forces.

While I'm excited to see any role Gyllenhaal takes on, I'm a bit thrown off that his relationship starts off as an ally. My only guess as to why would be that it obviously ends up strained throughout the course of the movie, adding some depth to Mysterio's role and likely leading to his induction to the Sinister Six that the MCU seems to be delicately building. That would explain why Michael Keaton's Vulture is set to appear in the movie as well.



Lion King

Release Date: July 19, 2019
Starring: Donald Glover, Beyoncé Knowles-Carter, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Seth Rogen, Billy Eichner, John Oliver, Keegan-Michael Key, James Earl Jones, Alfre Woodard & John Kani 
Director: Jon Favreau

Much like Aladdin, Lion King is a live-action remake of the 1994 classic animated movie following the rise of young Simba to become the king of the jungle. This cast is unreal. I've already pre-pre-pre downloaded the highly-anticipated Donald Glover/Beyoncé duet of Can You Feel The Love Tonight. One thing's for sure, this is a Grammy and Academy Award-winning knock out that I can't wait to see. Add yet another billion to Disney's account with this one for sure.

Warner Bros. Pictures

Warner Bros. Pictures

IT: Chapter Two

Release Date: September 6, 2019
Starring: Bill Skarsgård, James McAvoy, Jay Ryan, Jessica Chastain, Bill Hader, Isaiah Mustafa, James Ransone & Andy Bean 
Director: Andy Muschietti

OK… maybe we do have some quality horror movies this year. It: Chapter Two will be a follow-up to 2017's reboot of the same name. This time we follows the adult version of The Losers Club, 27 years later when they return to their hometown to fight off Pennywise the Clown once and for all. We have an amazing older cast here to fill the big shoes of 2017's child-led cast. Additionally, the younger cast from 2017's It will return to reprise their roles as well.

Warner Bros. Pictures

Warner Bros. Pictures


Release Date: October 4, 2019
Starring: Joaquin Phoenix, Zazie Beetz, Robert De Niro, Bill Camp, Frances Conroy, Brett Cullen
Director: Todd Phillips

The Crown Prince of Crime is set to get his stand-alone origin film this year. I wasn’t sold on Joker until the first images of Joaquin Phoenix on-set came out. It's a very traditional/cynical take on The Joker from the looks of the photos. I'm not a fan of comparing actors who play the same characters, but Phoenix's rendition looks closer to Heath Ledger's take on the character. Random fact, but Joaquin Phoenix was almost Doctor Strange in the MCU.

Honorable Mentions

Shazam is here solely due to Aquaman's breakout success. There's also a Charlie's Angels reboot starring Kristen Stewart, Naomi Scott, Elizabeth Banks, Patrick Stewart and Djimon Hounsou which has peaked my interest. Captain Marvel has generated quite the buzz as she's looked at as the end-all be-all against Thanos. Of course, the big release to end the year will be Star Wars Episode IX.

Comment or tweet me what movies you're excited for this year and check out more of my work here!

The Most Anticipated Projects of 2019
(Prince Williams/WireImage)

(Prince Williams/WireImage)

A new year brings a clean slate, and with that comes fresh new music. 2018 brought a doozy of releases; so much it was being debated that there was TOO MUCH new music on the streets. Still, fans are anticipating a bevy of new releases in 2019. Here’s the artists we’re anticipating to drop new projects to end the decade.

Schoolboy Q

It never surprises me that Top Dawg sets the tone each year, and this time around it’s Groovy Q’s turn to drop. Last we heard from him was back in 2016 with his sophomore album Blankface LP. He’s killed some features here and there, and Q was reported to be close to finishing his third major studio album before he pushed it back due to the sudden, unexpected death of his good friend Mac Miller.

Signs on Q’s Instagram point to him being ready to release some new heat, so we’re excited to hear what he has in store for us this time around.

Isaiah Rashad

Isaiah Rashad has been real quiet since the release of his sophomore album The Sun’s Tirade. Last August Top Dawg hinted at a few more albums on the way, leading to speculation a new project from Rashad was on the horizon. While we already know how Kendrick, Jay Rock, & SZA can roll, I’m real interested to see which direction is Zay is headed.

Dreamville - Revenge of the Dreamers 3

Following the Revenge of the Dreamers 3 sessions so far has been one of my favorite moments in the early stages of the year Watching the sessions from the outside-in via social media feels like an exclusive invite-only club with other artists, musicians and media members. Seeing the sessions unfold has been organically amazing to witness.

J. Cole - The Fall Off 

Cole teased The Fall Off during his KOD run. We haven’t heard much about its status lately, but Cole has appeared to be re-inspired, working in the studio more often and exploring different producers. It’s cool to see Cole expand in that way, and I’m anxious to see if it will play a part in creating his next album.

Future presents: The WZRD

2018 felt like a light year musically for Fewtch. He dropped four projects, including the curated soundtrack to Superfly, but his presence wasn’t necessarily felt last year. That all changes this weekend with the release of The WZRD.

Freddie Gibbs & Madlib - Bandana 

One of the more underrated rappers in the game, Freddie Gibbs dropped two projects in 2018: the Curren$y-collaborated Fetti and his project with Kenny Beatz, Freddie. For the last few months he’s been teasing his follow-up to 2014’s Piñata with Madlib - Bandana. Expect more of the same heat from Freddie in the new year.

21 Savage & Young Nudy

Both 21 Savage & Young Nudy were making their rounds in 2018 with their respective solo projects, Nudy’s Slime Ball 3 and I Was  > I Am from 21. Both projects helped solidify both of their positions in the Atlanta rap scene. The two announced a collaborative project at the end of last year and have dropped a single for the project, Since When.

Chance The Rapper

Aside from the features and some loosies given to us, we haven’t received a full blown project from Chicago’s friendly neighborhood rapper since 2016’s Coloring Book. Chance has a few expected projects in the works, including his own solo album and two collaborative albums: one with Childish Gambino and the other with Kanye West. He’s been very tight-lipped about his next project, so stay tuned.

Pusha T

I don’t have many details yet, but i’ve heard through the grapevines that Pusha T would be releasing an album this year. There’s not a lot of information regarding this but at this point, anything is possible with the president of GOOD Music. 

Looking Glass #24 - "Ocean Master a Hotep"

Looking Glass is back with another episode covering the BILLION reasons to love #Aquaman, the new Captain Marvel trailer, #SpiderVerse spinoffs, and more this week.

Celebrate your division champs by grabbing one of the NEW shirts straight from The Barber's Chair merch store!

Nearly Canceled: Entourage drops January 2019 exclusively on the Barber's Chair Patreon! Become a patron of The Barber's Chair on Patreon! $5 a month will get you a thank you on Ball Don't Lie and guarantees you access to Nearly Canceled: Entourage, along with more exclusive premium content from The Barber's Chair!

AQUAMAN: A Sign of DC’s Future
Image courtesy of Popsugar

Image courtesy of Popsugar

When Warner Bros. and DC Comics announced Man of Steel it not only signaled another reboot for DC’s biggest superhero, but a restart on the entire universe. Emulating the cultural phenomenon Disney and Marvel has accomplished with the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Warner Bros. sought to create their own crude, microwavable shared universe, putting faith in its two biggest names: Clark Kent and Bruce Wayne.

But after two lukewarm entries (the Zach Snyder-directed MOS and Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice) and a critical failure in David Ayer’s Suicide Squad, the DC Extended Universe came out of the gates on shaky legs. Despite the success of Patty Jenkins’ Wonder Woman, by the time Justice League arrived, the glow of Zack Snyder’s charm had worn off, replaced with a altered and overt Joss Whedon script, essentially marking the end of Snyder’s creative involvement over DC’s projects.

Just over five years after MOS debuted with lofty goals strapped on its back, the sixth installment in the DCEU - the James Wan-directed Aquaman - may have finally lit the flame on the rocket DC hoped to fire half a decade ago.

Aquaman may not be a great film, but it’s delightfullly-average, elevated by a fun script, truly spectacular visuals & an adrenaline-pumping third act. The film does suffer from cringe-worthy dialogue, a bloated run time and some plot points that at times feel convoluted, and at others feel so simple many of its key moments are telegraphed. It may not be better than Wonder Woman, but it’s a step in the right direction for the DCEU.

Aquaman may lay claim to a more important attribute: succeeding where the past failed while finding a way to stand on its own. As one of two films (along with SS) bearing no link to Snyder, it carried the distinct vision of its creative team (even WW’s aesthetic closely resembled MOS and BVS). Where Snyder’s films opted for half-baked, philosophical ruminations with the seriousness of a barium enema, James Wan went for an old-school, Sword-in-the-Stone tale of kings and heroes, approached with the light-hearted touch you need from Atlantis. Wan embraced the outlandish subject matter; instead of grounding it in gritty realism, he used what was at his disposal to take you to the furthest depths of the ocean. Ignoring the DCEU became Aquaman’s biggest strength.

The DCEU was in jeopardy just a year ago, with personnel and studio changes abound, but Aquaman has been the pivot DC desperately needs. It may not be one of the best movies of the last year, and it’s still unknown whether the universe will be scrapped completely or not, but Aquaman is a serviceable restart. After being lost in a mire for years, it’s more than DC could’ve hoped for.

The Looking Glass #23

Looking Glass returns from Holiday break with talk of the continued success of #Aquaman, the return of Young Justice, MCU Plans for the X-Men and more.

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Celebrate your division champs by grabbing one of the NEW shirts straight from The Barber's Chair merch store!

Nearly Canceled: Entourage drops January 2019 exclusively on the Barber's Chair Patreon! Become a patron of The Barber's Chair on Patreon! $5 a month will get you a thank you on Ball Don't Lie and guarantees you access to Nearly Canceled: Entourage, along with more exclusive premium content from The Barber's Chair!

Intro & Outro music: "I Just Wanna Vibe" - Pavy, ROLODX, SPKR

The Looking Glass EP 22

Happy Holidays from the Looking Glass crew. On the final episode of the year, X, Ash, Church, & Ken discuss Avengers Endgame's runtime, Young Justice, Titans season finale, and more!

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Follow X: @BlackIce392
Follow Ash: @_AshTheStampede
Follow Ken: @shadowcoon_

The Looking Glass - the Spider-Verse episode

X, Church, Brandon, Ken + special guest Hemmz breaks down #IntoTheSpiderVerse, run down their favorite moments, and discuss the future of the franchise on this special episode of Looking Glass

Become a patron of The Barber's Chair on Patreon! $5 a month will get you a thank you on Ball Don't Lie and guarantees you access to exclusive premium content from The Barber's Chair when it becomes available!

Grab your official Barber's Chair merch as well!

Follow X: @BlackIce392
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Follow Ken: @shadowcoon_
Follow Hemmz: @LolitaZenpie

The Looking Glass - Miles Byke

X, Ash, Brandon, and Ken talk Spider-Verse 2 details, Punisher releasing #SOON, DCEU casting news, Titans, and more on Looking Glass this week

Become a patron of The Barber's Chair on Patreon! $5 a month will get you a thank you on Ball Don't Lie and guarantees you access to exclusive premium content from The Barber's Chair when it becomes available!

Grab your official Barber's Chair merch as well!

Follow X: @BlackIce392
Follow Ash: @_AshTheStampede
Follow Brandon: @derpdeviI
Follow Ken: @shadowcoon_

Random Acts of Podcast EP 208 - Draco get to kickin like Liu Kang

DAY ONE of #12DaysOfPodcasts is here. During our trip to Art Basel we sat in our hotel room and chopped it up about our first time Art Basel experience, racist gamers being angry over the new Mortal Kombat 11 trailer, how celebrities should apologize over old tweets and we give our thoughts of the new Avengers 4: End Game trailers. Also we answer emails and voicemails from the listeners. Remember to send in your listener questions, #TheyNeedTheirAssBeat or #RealNiggaOfTheWeek submissions, email us at or call 424-260-RAOP to leave a voicemail.

Curving the "Repetitive & Bleak"

What happened to R&B? It’s a pretty loaded question but the most noticeable transformation is its style. R&B has undergone constant revisions throughout the years, for the better. Trailblazers like Chuck Berry and Fats Domino were ahead of their time, incorporating elements of big band jazz and rock-n-roll into a bluesy, rhythmic fashion. As the style evolved in the succeeding decades, more prominent distinctions began to bloom under this growing umbrella of a genre. The genius of Holland-Dozier-Holland with mastermind Barry Gordy spawned the Motown era. Transcendent acts like the late, great Aretha Franklin used her background in Gospel to echo louder than any typecast, yet stuck to her roots as a pure singer. Divas such as Diana Ross and Donna Summer welcomed the disco era of the '70s and used the sound to vibrantly add a new twist to R&B. The innovative composition of Quincy Jones propelled the solo career of Michael Jackson, whose voice was incapable of dimming. Prince was Prince, in all his brilliant artistry, showmanship, and technical skill. Whitney, Marvin, Stevie, Luther, Sade; bold acts associated with greatness because of the prolific quality of their work. These larger-than-life pioneers laid the groundwork for Black music - and its effect on pop culture and the world at large - to reach the astronomical heights of influence today.

It could be argued that the last truly memorable era of R&B was the mid-80s to late 1990s, thanks in part to the style of New Jack Swing. Influenced by the burgeoning hip-hop/rap sound, R&B took on a whole new personality. Groups like Jodeci, Blackstreet, En Vogue, and SWV, in addition to being able to carry a note for several seconds, had a confident attitude that was present on a record. If the production was upbeat and demanding of attention, the artist matched the energy and fit into the groove with a lively performance. Songs like “This is How We Do It” can still rock a set in 2018; the mentality of the track strongly emotes the vibe of a house party. It's so infectious, it can evoke any dormant rhythm and lead you to the dance floor.

On the flip side, if the BMPs were at a slower pace, the strength of powerful vocals and relatable tales about heartbreak can make their pain feel palpable. The duality of a strong woman who can curve a trifling dub one minute and vulnerably penning a love song the next. So long are also the days of grown ass men having to beg on bended knee for forgiveness...or angling just to get some that night. The game is the game and the '90s soundtrack was full of life and real emotions. Not to say the previous is completely devoid today, but in comparison '90s R&B had true charisma. Even for one-hit wonders, there was a personality for the entire era that was distinguished, iconic, and worthy of praise all these years later.

Neo-soul powerhouses such as Erykah Badu and D'Angelo kept the pulse for R&B alive after the New Jack Swing style was slowly being phased out (not forgotten), but hip-hop went from fledgling to flying from the mid-90s to early 2000s. In the process, rap music bullied its way to the forefront while the role of a traditional R&B singer on the main stage - aside from the Beyonce’s and Rihanna’s of the world - was somewhat relegated to hooks and took the backseat for a minute. The 2010s have seen a resurgence of popularity for genres in the urban market. Incorporating major elements of electronic music like autotune and synthesizers, as popular music did in the '80s, helped to revitalize (to some) and evolve hip-hop and R&B as a whole. It also helped to globalize their popularity by reaching out to certain groups that wouldn't normally listen.

The past few years of R&B have seen great developments - so much so, that it was on a perceived trajectory to become level with its rap counterparts. "Trap-soul" or "Trap-N-B" had the strongest wave lap upon the shores of recent music by creating a rap-sung hybrid, detailing heartbreaks over 808s and trap hi-hats. If the hook artist isn't completely dead, they have transformed and rebranded themselves as singers that can rap. Ja Rule borrowed harmonies from vocalists at the top of the millennium; current "singers" like 6LACK are boldly attacking the inverse with great success. There are some talented artists but, there's an ever growing sense of malaise hanging over the genre as it becomes to get more popular than ever from a statistical standpoint. There's this dreary trend of singers that create a dark and gloomy aspect and wear it as an aesthetic. Blues have always been a part of R&B; it's a third of the acronym. But 2018 has shone the light on a certain brand of artist that relies on everything but talent. The problem is, singers don't really need to be great vocalists to be considered "great," which is confusing. Autotune and a skilled audio engineer can cover up many impurities. Breathy whispers on a light and airy beat, with lyrics from a Tumblr account of motivational quotes, is passable today. Add a great social media team, some sex appeal, a "minimalist" label, and boom, you have yourselves a microwaved star in the making. The highest of highs from this era can hold a torch to the legends of years past, but the influx of mid is also bringing down the overall integrity of the present.

Despite the collective plateau of creativity, R&B has serious potential to curve past the section of repetitive & bleak group-think for 2019 and beyond. Two recent releases are a sampling of the best that 2018 has to offer. Saturn by NAO, and MihTy both have individual personalities with rich vocals over a lively composition that does not make you want to fall asleep, even when the tempo is relaxed. The performers themselves were not solely dependent on surrounding factors or a perceived image. Production ties everything together, but the artists led the charge and carried the projects with their voice, confident delivery, and precise timing of notes. No matter how regular a lyric that was sung, these collections of songs felt like music with a purpose: a purpose to make the listener actually feel something.

Supergroups were a staple in '90s R&B. The combination of exceptional talent has the potential for a dynamic record to pop off, but there’s also the possibility of egos colliding, creating friction in the process only to yield results where the parts aren't flush with the intended design. Two of the most in-demand singers of this generation, paired with a reinvented musician from last decade, connected to make a statement that'll ring beyond 2018. LA's Ty Dolla $ign and Chicago's Jeremih linked up for a collab tape worthy of high praise. Their joint name - MihTy - even synchronizes well and is indicative of how well they mesh together. The heavy, raspy timbre of $ complements the sharp, distinctive high notes of Jeremih in a way that's chilling and provocative. As Teddy Riley and Guy once did for New Jack Swing, Hitmaka (fka Yung Berg) took a current hip-hop production style and sculpted it to fit instead of the ever-evolving umbrella of R&B. Lyrically and sonically, the tone of the project was set on the album's opener, The Light. Ty makes a triumphant introduction by literally getting down to business, right before Jeremih's chorus pierces through like a beacon of light on a cloudy day, leading into his verses that carry a bounce of a hybrid between a rapper and pure singer. What really adds to each of the tracks is the layering of ad-libs from both artists. Bursts of harmonies and carried out notes of spoken word accentuate the already robust production. Using their voices like elements of inserted kits on FL Studios steadily weave throughout the 30-minute project in a pitch that won't make you cringe.

A description like this may make MihTy seem chaotic, but it's far from that. The three major players are Ty$, Jeremih, and the production; the vibrant sounds of the trio blend together to make a beautiful piece of art out of a blank canvas. Varying styles between the two singers shake up any potential monotony whenever it may approach. New Level (with a quick nod to “In My Bed” by Dru Hill before the beat drops) sees the pairing hit their vocal crescendos on an upbeat banger that'll be sure to liven a kickback. Opposite of that are the slower, more traditional R&B tracks in These Days and Imitate, which firmly establishes their versatility. Instead of letting the down tempo beat carry them, MihTy's range with vocal inflections shines when they could have just mailed it in. They enlisted a couple rappers - French Montana on FYT, an ode to the Bad Boy classic; and Wiz Khalifa (along with Chris Brown) on the energetic Surrounded - in a way shows independence by inviting them into their space. By not having a tracklist laden with rap features, MihTy proves that an R&B group can stand on its own in a hip-hop environment. Hitmaka deserves his roses for a successful rebrand and for the way he held it down behind the boards; his attention-grabbing production should not be understated. With their tales of dirty mackin’ the pairing of Ty Dolla $ign and Jeremih smoothly held notes expertly sang their way to a memorable and enjoyable project.

Powerful is one of the first adjectives that pops to mind when NAO comes to mind. The texture of her voice when she bellows "I guess I'll wait another lifetime" before coolly crooning to the next progression of the chorus can send chills up one's spine. Her debut album Saturn deserves the recognition of high profile singers across all types of music. There's a unique twang in her voice that does not sound awkward. Rather, it fits comfortably in the rest of the captivating production that blends many different sounds without sounding sloppy. Somehow, NAO 1-ups the robust landscape by matching then propelling herself higher than the instrumental with a beautiful voice. The best kind of music attempts to incorporate several styles and package it together cohesively.

If You Ever has a rhythmic bop as an undertone but right before the bridge of wavy vocal notes hit, there's a serene string section that leads into the refrain without a dull moment.  The 31-year-old singer-songwriting hailing from the UK had a fitting theme with the name Saturn. Compared to your average releases from this year, there was a colorful balance of dance/pop tracks with substance (Love Supreme, Yellow of the Sun), new-age big band jazz (Saturn ft. Kwabs), and electronic-influenced neo-soul (Gabriel, Orbit) that could function just as an acapella. That last part is extremely important - her voice alone could function on its own. There are some vocoder adjustments but the purpose is to add a twist, not to carry the singer. NAO has the voice of a pure gospel singer whose recorded sound must not deviate too far from her live performance. One of the most interesting debuts in modern R&B may not be as promoted as some of her contemporaries, but in time, she will be a force to be reckoned with.

Seemingly out of nowhere, a huge mess of a debate sparked on Twitter about who the "King of R&B" truly is. Informed takes filtered in, in support of Stevie Wonder, Michael Jackson and others. Some memes circulated. Talks eventually devolved into a '90s-centric discussion: where a legendary, yet extremely problematic nominee came up several times; a separate Queen of R&B debate - featuring Mariah Carey, Janet Jackson, and Mary J. Blige, among others; and group comparisons like Jodeci vs. Boyz II Men and TLC vs. Xscape popped up as well. A lot of healthy back and forth turned into a nostalgic remembrance of how dominant that decade really was. But of course, there were some asinine comments like "Trap Soul is DEFINITELY better than anything Usher ever made," as if Confessions and 8701 were never made, because, Twitter.

Plenty of really good, standout artists have been successful over the last decade, but none have had a prolonged excellence like the soloists of years past., and the ones that did achieved their status by transcending the genre (e.g. Drake, Chris Brown, The Weeknd). Will there ever again be a person or group to reach the same magnitude of star power without crossing over into the Pop world? Are there viable options - like generational talent - for Kings and Queens in modern R&B? Only time will tell how lasting their impressions will be. H.E.R., Daniel Caesar, and Brent Faiyaz are examples of great young talent, but it's way too early to consider them royalty. The 2018 nominees from the Twitter debate was mostly artists that people are vibing to at the moment.

Looking at some of the names from the discourse, it's concerning that the greatness of earlier eras won't be replicated today. That's okay though; they will have their own memorable footnote in the history of music - unless this trend of gloomy, half-assed attempts at singing continues. A true crooner should be able to hit and hold several different notes over the course of a song. The production should complement the vocalist, not carry them. Technique and timing shouldn't fully be replaced by electronic alterations. Charisma, words with real emotions, being able to sing acapella in the right pitch: that'll always be royalty.

The Looking Glass - "Thanos stay in Strawberry"

X, Church, Brandon, and Ken break down the Avengers 4 and Captain Marvel trailers & other movie announcements, recap the Game Awards, and more nerd news on Looking Glass this week!

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Teflon Don: a tribute to Rocky Balboa

“It ain’t about how hard you hit. It’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward”

Sylvester Stallone announced on Instagram last week that he’s “retiring” his iconic Rocky Balboa character. Whether or not that holds true - it is Hollywood so you never know - this feels like the perfect time to take a moment to appreciate everything the character’s given us & to celebrate the most underrated fact about him: Rocky Balboa was Teflon.

Stallone created the iconic fighter in 1976, loosely based on real-life boxer Charles Wepner, who was a clear underdog against then-heavyweight champ Muhammed Ali in 1975 who managed to almost go the distance before losing by TKO in the 15th round. Much like Wepner, Rocky was an underdog who got a shot at the title & stunned the world by not eating shit in the first round, then stunned the world again by not eating shit at all. He was an awkward southpaw you didn’t wanna step up to.

The critical & commercial success of the first film spawned five sequels as well as two spinoffs. While the critical success trended downward with each sequel, returning to a peak for the sixth installment, Rocky Balboa (which remains the second-highest rated in the main series), the commercial success never wavered. No film bearing the name “Rocky” in its title ever failed to, at least, double its production budget at the worldwide box office. Audiences stood by Rocky; no matter how inconceivable the scenarios were, they flocked to see him overcome his next challenge. Teflon!

Those numbers are just half the story; they have to be put in context, measured against the reality that after Rocky III, the plots to the sequels became increasingly inane. In Rocky IV, the Italian Stallion went toe-to-toe with Russia’s laboratory created, boxing version of Frankenstein’s monster, Ivan Drago. The fight, born out of revenge following Drago beating Rocky’s good friend Apollo Creed to death in an exhibition match, saw Rocky train in the wintry mountains of Russia before going 15 rounds with his steroid-infused nemesis, flooring him just seconds before the final bell rang. That’s before even mentioning his post-victory speech that gained applause from the Russian General Secretary, effectively ending the Cold War!

In Rocky V, Rock is broke, suffering from permanent brain damage, is a lousy parent & engages in good old fashioned street fisticuffs against a kid he tried to live vicariously through. It’s a ludicrous premise, its execution is flawed but, again, it didn’t matter. Then came Rocky Balboa (arguably the best main series sequel), which saw an older Rocky, mourning the loss of his wife, trying to maintain a relationship with his son all while attempting to find his way in a world he felt no longer had a place for him. It works so well as a rumination on the perils of getting old that you almost don’t think about the fact that a man in his late fifties with permanent brain damage fighting a man decades younger than him and not dying is about as likely as Ben Simmons hitting a three this season. More importantly, it made you look past the fact that the black boxer he was fighting was named Mason “The Line” Dixon. They basically named him Mason Dixon Line. Rocky Balboa named the antagonist of the film after the line used to separate slave states from non slave states and NOBODY CARED!

Therein lies the true success of Rocky Balboa, the man. It didn’t really matter what the story was. We were there for him. From his guttural screams of “Adrian”, to when he beat the 10 count Apollo couldn’t, at the iconic freeze frame ending, to when Drago said “if he dies, he dies”, all the way until he tells his son “it ain’t about how hard you hit”, we came back for him. We hung on to a character who was a testament to perseverance. An underdog to a champ. A man who loved as hard as he fought & who we want nothing more than to see happy. A character that Sylvester Stallone played better every time out with his last few appearance being top notch. If his final moment in CREED 2 is, in fact, the last time we see the legend on screen then we couldn’t have asked Stallone for a better performance. A man who was resilient but afraid, wise but still flawed &, when it was all done, he made amends with the family he has left in a subtly, beautiful scene.

A tip of that patented fedora to you, Rock, you did it.

The Looking Glass #19
Random Acts of Podcast - Problematic 3.0

On this week’s episode of RAOP we give an update on Devin wearing the Jayla Foxx t-shirt on Thanksgiving, we give our detailed breakdown of Creed 2 (spoilers stop at the 1:33:55 mark), we have a debate on who's better: Key Glock or Young Dolph? Plus we cap things off with an ounce of problematic. Also we answer emails from the listeners. Also we answer emails from the listeners. Remember to send in your listener questions, #TheyNeedTheirAssBeat or #RealNiggaOfTheWeek submissions, email us at or call 424-260-RAOP to leave a voicemail.

Less is More: the case for shorter albums

Advancements in technology have, for better or for worse, changed the way 1. consumers receive music; and 2. artists create and distribute final compositions. Instead of the need to be physically present to collaborate with others that are thousands of miles away, unfinished tracks can quickly be shared electronically with a click of the mouse, bridging the virtual gap between collaborators that are countries apart.

An ambitious high schooler can become a rapper, producer, and audio engineer by watching instructional videos on YouTube straight from their momma’s basement. In lieu of a proper studio, plenty of hits during the SoundCloud era (again, for better or for worse) were performed in a bathroom with makeshift soundproof paneling. DIY mentality, in conjunction with the tech boom, saturated the market of recordings, which isn't necessarily a bad thing. More opportunities to take risks to expand the sound of a genre. More output also means more chances to miss, which leaves an increasing clutter of broken songs to sift through.

Sorting the mess can be a daunting task in 2018. Even with the advent of streaming services - with thousands of neatly organized albums at our instant disposal for the cost of about 12 CDs per year - keeping up with the latest releases is a chaotic schedule to maintain. It shouldn't be a chore to press play on a new project by a favorite artist. "Are you fucking kidding me?" shouldn't be the first thing that comes to mind when looking at a tracklist. That, for example, should be reserved for the optimistic shock of seeing guest features; however, exasperating said phrase at the long runtime or the number of songs has become a negative trend.

There are obvious exceptions, but a CD should not be the same length as a motion picture movie. Human attention spans have unsurprisingly been dwindling because of technology. It's no wonder that why can only focus on something important for about 30 minutes or less. The internet alone stimulates our minds in many different ways to ensure that we're never truly "bored."

Oh, and there's life: social with friends, relationships with significant others, work with people you secretly hate. It's a lot for our minds juggle at once. Even if one sits at home and does nothing but consume music, listening to something for an hour and a half straight seems laborious, not joyful.

Artistic merits exist within these projects, but a few of the biggest culprits of an extended runtime happen to be three of the biggest names in hip-hop: Migos, Rae Sremmurd, and Drake. Culture II (24 tracks; 1hr 45m), SR3MM (triple disc, 27 tracks; 1h 41m), and Scorpion (double disc, 26 tracks; 1hr 30m) rack up 77 songs totaling 5 hours & 56 minutes. In that same time, you could watch Black Panther & Infinity War back-to-back, or take a flight from NYC to London.

Long albums can hide behind the guise of "we're giving more to our fans," but the jig was never fooling anyone. In the streaming age where all sorts of sales records are being broken by the hour, a loaded tracklist primarily has rich goals of achieving RIAA certifications. The logic behind it is to compile as many records as possible, including scraps off the cutting room floor, and see which single pops. Essentially, throw a bunch of stuff against the wall and see what sticks. Can't knock these artists for their business acumen but with lengthy projects, they run the risk of sacrificing the quality of a finished product. RIAA certifications add little to a legacy in the streaming age if there's an asterisk.

What Kanye West tried to do with five projects in five weeks was disrupt a flow that was endlessly trending upwards. A disorganized circus in Wyoming played active defense against his strategy, leaving the experiment as a whole disheveled. While the panned three-fifths of the session was hastily put together, the two standout products DAYTONA and KIDS SEE GHOSTS succeeded with precision and conciseness, as they took more than a week to plan. Having seven songs per project leaves little room for error but increases the chances of a high, efficient batting average.

Many believe they hit, but there are some groups with the flawed opinion that DAYTONA and KIDS SEE GHOSTS are not "legitimate albums" because their 20-minute runtime. It's fine if they get left off Album of the Year discussions; this isn't a campaign about that. Disregarding them because there wasn't additional filler shouldn't be a valid dismissal.

A complete thought can be assembled in 30 minutes or less. In an over-saturated music economy, stripping a project down to the bare essentials is a merit in and of itself. As streaming becomes the preferred method of listening, the lines are getting blurred between what separates an album from a mixtape or an EP. The EP vs. LP distinction was strict when the boundaries of distribution were as well. Why can't these distinctions evolve with the times? A comprehensive story can be told in 30 minutes or less just as effectively as an hour-long release. The M.O. of "less is more" was influenced by three impressive projects: FETTI, FM!, and White Bronco.

Joint albums - even with three legendary acts such as Freddie Gibbs, Curren$y, and The Alchemist - always look great on paper but are far from a guarantee. Listeners have been scorned by recent collab tapes with chief complaints stemming from the chemistry or lack thereof. Big names will certainly attract an audience. A compilation of throwaways and a lack of effort will dissipate said crowd faster than yelling fire! in a movie theater. Heavy smoke (no pun intended) surrounded the anticipation of FETTI after a surprise announcement. Clocking in at 23 and a half minutes, this powerhouse trio exceeded expectations by delivering an intricate balancing act with two rap styles, seemingly on polar ends of the spectrum, complementing each other like Yin & Yang. Gangsta Gibbs is known for expertly running through sets of triplets in rapid succession, all the while flexing on a 16 with hay makers for punches ("My baby said if I be faithful, she gone hold me down / I'm fuckin' these hoes, I want it all like an only child // About to take a trip, I got coke and dope on my grocery list // Oxycontin pack, I be switchin' rackets like Djokovic"). He slickly does so most prominently on Willie Lloyd and even sings with conviction on Now & Later Gators.

In many ways, Spitta Andretti is just different. If Freddie is a renegade assassin, then the New Orleans native is a cerebral marksman that moves with grace and precision who is equally as lethal. Curren$y's flow embodies a cool ass nigga; his presence will be felt without ever doing the most ("It's like divin' out the plane / Once that music hit our veins / Tins of Rose Champagne // Mascara telling her tale, Revealin' her pain"). A confident calmness, exhibited on Saturday Night Special and No Window Tints, showcases skilled rap ability without needing to spazz out. And what's left to say about Alan The Chemist that hasn't been said already. There's a masterful, haunted essence to his production that's sharp, distinct and one-of-a-kind. The sample-driven, minimalist landscape The Alchemist provides for the duo is deranged and beautiful, manic but never frantic. No one truly dominates except FETTI as a whole; Gibbs, Spitta & ALC co-exist without intruding each others space. These veterans understand the strength of effective teamwork.

Vince Staples can rap his ass off. He's technically sound, quick, witty, and intelligent. At such a *young* age, the North Long Beach native has a wisdom that resembles a man in his mid-40s. People think his interviews are hilarious. All of the above is a recipe for a hip-hop star in 2018, not to say that he isn't. How come he's not universally beloved? The beats. For lack of a better phrase, the "robotic production" on Prima Donna and Big Fish Theory - two solid pieces of work with underlying creativity - has been sonically off-putting to some. The thing is: he doesn't give a fuck. It's evident by his brash attitude and the way he carries himself. Vince's latest project, FM!, thanks in part to the chameleon-like super-producer Kenny Beats, is a more palatable experience to all listeners involved. At just over 22 minutes, FM! is a straightforward concept album on the surface: someone turning on Power 106 ("Big Boy's Neighborhood" to be specific) hearing him rap about his life. In meta terms, it could be interpreted as a voyeur’s experience of a real story; a brief snapshot of a complex individual that's witnessed the traumatic pain of street life, but disguises it as entertainment. The visuals to the ironically titled, E-40-featured FUN and the song itself captures that point. With assistance on the hook by Jay Rock, Don't Get Chipped is a weary, bass-heavy track that talks about remaining skeptical even after you've "made it":

Everybody say it's lonely at the top
I want my homies at the top
My little homie, he got shot
And now I'm moving by my lonely with the .40 and the mop
Finna pull up early morning and somebody getting dropped
I throw a party on your block, like I'm Tommy the clown
Hundred thousand dollar car, bet you proud of me now
Took my mama out the set, house as big as my mouth

That balance between light and dark keeps Staples on edge, knowing that his work isn't done. Ty Dolla $ign, Kehlani, Buddy and Kamaiyah (“head on a swivel, no bleedin’ me!”) all make an appearance (engineered by MixedByAli) to help provide as much of a vibrant West Coast feel as possible. Even 1-verse snippets from Tyga and Earl Sweatshirt, with dashes of segments of Big Boy's Neighborhood, add to the authenticity of the FM! radio show. Vince Staples had much to say in this concept album without belaboring the point.

Action Bronson has had one of the most interesting careers in entertainment since the start of the decade. After breaking a leg in the kitchen, gourmet chefs don't typically end up signing to a major as a result of releasing critically acclaimed mixtapes. They don't typically parlay their success into two television shows AND a book deal. Completely self-made. Last year’s effort Blue Chips 7000 may have indirectly foreshadowed the chaotic gap between 2017-2018. Unlike the nonretail mixtapes Blue Chips 1 & 2, 7000 (retail) felt...forced and uncharacteristic. 2018 marked the end of the Atlantic partnership and the Queens-bred talent cut ties with Vice for not fully appreciating him. Like OJ speeding down the 405 in '94, White Bronco is Action Bronson's burst of freedom (under less grave circumstances). 26 minutes was all that he needed to confirm his return to true independence.

When left to his own devices, Bam Bam has an incredible ear for beats. Having enlisted heavyweights like Harry Fraud, Party Supplies, Daringer who have collabed with him before, these producers helped to restore the feeling from earlier in his career. The narrative on White Bronco, never explicitly stated, is wild and cathartic - something that can't be tamed. He's at his best when his shit talking with a grin with absurd one-liners and quotables you can't help but laugh at ("all these women calling me Taye Diggs," "my haircut is like Dominican folk art," etc.). On the soulful Knxwledge-produced Prince Charming, there's a mix of reckless hilarity and controlled sentimental moments that a well-balanced Action tape sounds like. Featuring two of his closest friends (Big Body Bes and Meyham Lauren) and fellow statesman ASAP Rocky, White Bronco is a strong return to his independent roots in a major way. Sometimes the raps aren't perfectly strung together, but that's okay. He sounds free of constraint, happy to be himself again (“Hold up, just let me roll up, bitch, I'm 'bout to fly // Your boy been out his mind, tears fall out his eyes”). The signature "it's me" rings louder these days.

It was a struggle to power through both in one sitting, but 03 Greedo and Lupe Fiasco are examples of artists who had a legitimate reason for their lengthy projects. Greedo dropping an official album exceeding 90 minutes, God Level, just days before the start of a 20-year prison sentence is understandable. Lupe's Drogas Wave is a deeply thorough epic that's meant to be dissected for years to come. I see why it's over an hour and a half. A slight variation in production for the course of damn near two hours is unnecessary without a purpose. The three recent examples by FETTI, Vince Staples, and Action Bronson are proof that a condensed album can be just as declarative as a sprawling "full-length LP."

It's a low stakes investment for both the consumer and content creator. If it works, great; bump it multiple times until it falls out of rotation - it's bound to eventually reach the same amount of plays as the 30-track CD. If it doesn't work, great; move on to the next project - literally in the case of the artists; sometimes a fresh start is needed. Too much music to listen to is a great problem to have but we're adults now, we got shit to do. Less is truly more in an increasingly congested world of information. If you don't have anything interesting to say for an hour+, please keep it under 60 and...

FILM REVIEW: CREED II doubles down on nostalgia & leaves you caring more for the past than the present



“It’s your time now”

As Adonis Creed beckons towards Rocky Balboa to join him in the ring following the former’s victory over Viktor Drago, Rocky offers him a simple fist bump & those words. The camera pauses on a wide shot of their arms outstretched & linked at the fist before cutting to a close-up of Adonis. He looks a bit taken aback but turns to the ring, the crowd celebrating him, & embraces his moment. The camera follows him as he’s handed his belt and walks out of the ring hand-in-hand with Bianca up the tunnel. Rocky Balboa doesn’t appear in this scene again. The future unequivocally belongs to Adonis Creed.

CREED 2 took a different approach than its predecessor. After nailing that impactful line (fun fact: a line Sylvester Stallone improvised, according to director Steven Caple Jr.), Rocky walks over to a ringside chair and takes a seat. The camera follows him, positioned steadily behind him, the ring & everything happening in it in front of him but out of focus. We see Creed’s jubilance at his triumph over his demons through Rocky’s point of view. We don’t get to experience his joy in the ringl instead we’re left with the aged legend who has finally passed the torch. It’s a somber moment, but a beautiful shot that highlights the biggest problem I had walking away from CREED 2...

I still care more about Rocky Balboa than Adonis Creed.

Nostalgia is an extremely powerful tool. Humanity loves looking back to feeling the way we felt before, or at the very least, the way we believe we felt. It was used to perfection in 2015’s CREED. Watching the older Rocky train & take care of the illegitimate child of his close friend and former arch-enemy while he walked a similar path was appropriately affecting. There were familiar beats but more than enough originality for it to feel like it’s own piece.

The sequel doubled down on that nostalgia, tying Rocky’s own past directly to Adonis’ present. The end result is a movie that belongs just as much to the former as it does the latter, in spite of the latter being the titular character. In the end, Rocky reconnects with his estranged son & meets his grandson while Adonis visits the grave of his deceased father, Apollo, & introduces him to his grandchild. Rocky’s soft spoken meeting with the only family he has left produced a small lump in my throat. Adonis’ cathartic visit to the father he never knew left me shrugging.

So we circle back to that post-match moment. That ringside fist bump. The man sitting in a chair, outside looking in. The camera resting behind him. We’re invited fully into the perspective of Rocky Balboa, engulfed completely by his somber uncertainty. We’re left as spectators to Adonis Creed’s happiness, his victory over the ties that bound him to his past. The camera is the audiences’ portal into their world. Its positioning is ours as well. It controls what we see, & what we see controls what we feel. To the right, it would’ve shown us unbridled joy. To the left was quiet doubt. The powers that be took the camera left and that seemingly small choice made all the difference.

“It’s your time now”

After watching the moment that followed, what should have been a passing-of-the-torch line, I can’t help but ask; is it?

UPDATE: Well... it may be. Earlier this week Sylvester Stallone announced on Instagram that he’s officially retiring the Rocky Balboa character. While it's a great move for the franchise, it doesn't sit well with me that the character will either be relegated to an off-screen death or passing mentions about his whereabouts in the next film. It’ll most likely be the former because it’s the only reason a prominent father figure in Adonis’ life & career is suddenly no longer around, but the latter would leave audiences questioning why he doesn’t reach out to his mentor.

Time will tell how this all plays out, but if CREED 2 is the end of Rocky & Adonis' relationship, then it ends with Rocky Balboa acting as a plot device in two films before being unceremoniously disregarded as if he were never that important to begin with.

Follow Z on Twitter: @ZTheJustOK

Album review: Anderson .Paak lets you into his eclectic world with "Oxnard"

Oxnard is the 19th most populated city in the entire state of California. Approximately two hours northwest of: El Segundo, where the transcendent Kamaal The Abstract left his wallet in a legendary tale; Compton, where the cerebral Andre Young recorded a seminal masterpiece titled The Chronic, and; Long Beach, where Calvin Broadus linked up with Young to create a definitive West Coast classic nearly 25 years ago to the day. It's also home to a multi-hyphenate musician by the name of Brandon Paak Anderson - a man working on a lasting legacy of his own.

His laid-back mannerisms embody the spirit of the Greater Los Angeles area that has the essence of summertime year-round. The artist formerly known as Breezy Lovejoy makes his performances on stage and in the studio seem effortless, but a tremendous amount of work was required on this difficult path to reach the crest of his profession. Even after all he's accomplished, he's not even close to his full potential; alike to the next evolution of music consumption after streaming, the listeners won't know what to expect next, but it could potentially shift the way we view this art form.

Seven years ago, he was homeless with a wife and child after unexpectedly being fired as a weed farmer. Today, the GRAMMY-nominated 32-year-old Anderson .Paak dropped an instant album of the year contender: Oxnard, the third (solo) studio album under his current moniker. The previous two are vastly different from each other but are important to the development of a style that can't be replicated. Venice (2014) was an ambitious electro-R&B project, mixed with guitar licks and trap sounds, had a few moments but as a whole, felt unfocused. However, 2016 yielded more fruitful results. At the top of the year, the arsenal of his creative genius was on full display with Malibu, featuring his close friends The Free Nationals. The band's steady yet lively instrumentation and unforced chemistry with Andy helped to congeal any loose pockets that plagued the clunky Venice. This allowed .Paak to settle into his signature groove by exploring and destroying conventional aspects of music by combining neo-soul, funk, rap, and jazz without sounding disheveled.

The results were a critically acclaimed album in a class of its own, unbothered with fitting a singular trend; rather, Anderson .Paak and The Free Nationals were inspired by various genres and smartly crafted their own vibe on Malibu. Bookended between soulful, show-stealing guest spots, a highly regarded, more "traditional" rhythm & blues performance as one-half of Nxworries further cemented .Paak as a bona fide star.

While decades of trial & error and a strong background in the church were integral to the process, the free spirit of Yes Lawd! was refined thanks in part to Dr. Dre. “You need that, because you’ll go crazy when you’re making these albums if you don’t have nobody to be your co-pilot,” said .Paak of Dre and his meticulous focus in the studio. The iconic producer-turned-mogul played the role of mentor as he's done for the past 30 years. A well documented, near-peerless industry track record like Dre’s gave .Paak a major co-sign. 16 years after the flawless 2001, Dre triumphantly returned in 2015 with Compton: a soundtrack to the summer box office hit Straight Outta Compton that was meant to showcase the rising talent from the West Coast. Nobody shined brighter on Compton than Anderson .Paak.

Three years later, fully formed as a dangerous versatile threat, he returns to the lab with The Doc to put the finishing touches on Oxnard.

“'We went in for a few more weeks and that’s when the bulk of the album actually got done,' .Paak says of the more than 10 new tracks that form the core of the record. 'And these were songs that I never thought I’d write.'"

The mission was to let the entertainment world know that he and his hometown weren't solely "LA-adjacent"; they are distinct entities worthy of more than being generalized with the rest of the mold. The cinematic feel of Oxnard reflects the rockstar life he's experienced since 2014. There's a larger-than-life boldness to this record, similar to blaxploitation era films from the '70s. The album opener The Chase featuring Kadhja Bonet, sounds like a crisp remake of a funky jam found on the Dolemite soundtrack. As he does throughout the hour-long project, .Paak vacillates here between a slick rap flow and a cool, easy, yet powerful croon. The meticulous nature of Dr. Dre's handprint is obvious in more ways than one. Relative to his previous releases, it wouldn't be out of line to say that Oxnard is Anderson .Paak's *rap* album; in that, he rhymes in a lyricist's prose for a large portion of his verses like the 9th Wonder-produced Saviers Road. The shit talking and confidence with the way he spits in on par, if not better, than a lot of rappers currently in the game.

However, it would be unfair to just categorize it as his *rap* album. It's a multi-dimensional walk down a vibrant landscape that only an engineer on the level of Dr. Dre could so expertly arrange. Oxnard, like .Paak, is genre-less. Smile/Petty featuring Sonya Elise and SiR balances smooth vocals and nasally raps over a mellow RnB tune before ending with strong, spiteful singing over heavy g-funk production. Tints is a fun groove of lead single with a Kendrick Lamar - who co-habits the space on his best behavior - as they deal with increased stardom ("Paparazzi wanna shoot ya, shoot ya, niggas dying for less here"..."I can't be flying down that 110 with a bad bitch in my whip, I need tints"). The first half of 6 Summers doesn't mesh with the stellar second half, but it's meant to be a satirical "holding a mirror to the goofy commander-in-cheeto" in the Oval Office. Cheeky Andy doesn't seek to be overtly political, but when necessary, he can make a statement on behalf of his people.

On Animals, a standout off Compton, he sings:

The police don't come around these parts
They tell me that we all a bunch of animals
The only time they wanna turn the cameras on
Is when we're fuckin' shit up, come on

The refrain for the second half of 6 Summers goes on to say:

This shit gon' bang for at least six summers
But ain't shit gon' change for at least three summers
They tryna kill a nigga faith, we need a little truth, brother
Pop-pop-pop goes the shooter
Reform, reform shoulda came sooner

Contributing to social commentary as an artist, whether heavy-handed or subtle, can never be understated with a growing platform such as his. "Ain't shit gon' change" right away, but with a concerted effort, change is possible; stating so on a project that's "gon' bang for at least six summers" is a good way to spread the message. Aside from .Paak's multi-faceted performance and expertly mixed production, the strength of Oxnard lie in the guest appearances from a star-studded lineup. The mean 808, guitar infused banger Brother's Keeper, featuring the legal malice of Pusha-T (Am I my brother's keeper, they still asking 'bout the duo // Applaud his finding salvation, But I'm still rhyming 'bout the you know); Trippy with J. Cole - a calm soothing ballad dedicated to the love of their lives; Sweet Chick featuring the great, colorful, and soulful harmonics of BJ the Chicago Kid. On Anywhere, 25 years after the creation of Doggystyle, Dre & Snoop, still, in rare form as a pairing, reconnect to help give .Paak a fresh, relaxed melodic West Coast sound. On Cheers, the rapper who lost his wallet in El Segundo 18 years prior, talks about a different loss. Q-Tip (RIP Phife) and Anderson (RIP Mac Miller) share sentiments of losing close friends and collaborators, but choose to treat it as a reflective celebration of life. The result is a vibrant Dre & Tip production brought to life with upbeat percussion and synthesizers.

Venice to Compton to Malibu to Oxnard is a modern journey unlike anyone else's in popular music today. Each project has a distinct standalone presence, using previous experiences to carefully build towards this exact moment in 2018. An artist on the precipice of becoming a mega-star is learning to become more of himself. It can't be a coincidence how the path of the location first trended towards the actual city of Los Angeles then rerouted back to the place of his birth. Oxnard is an ode to and a return presentation to his hometown to share life experiences after traveling the globe in the limelight. It's evident that he grew as a lyricist, songwriter, composer, and musician as a whole...but we're nowhere close to the peak of his abilities. Oxnard, if only a glimpse, is a step in the direction of his full potential. It's a project that'll appreciate with time.

From CRWN, a sit-down conversation with Tidal:

Elliot Wilson: you have a wide musical pallet...with your classification of music, sometimes people don't necessarily know if they should put you in the idea of what RnB you hate those classifications and feel like it's just music?

"I think that people need to just first listen to the music. Like stop tryna put it and compare it and immediately say it's like this or it's like this. A lot of people aren't even listening to the music, on God. Like they not really digesting the music; they're just like one time through and they're eager to compare it...just listen! I just leave it up to the job is just to make it and make sure it's honest."

He doesn't fit a particular genre because he's his own genre. He’s Anderson .Paak.

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