Posts tagged Ty Dolla Sign
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.

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...

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The songs of Summer '18

The vibes for Summer 2018 were a little different this year. I can't put a finger on why, but the season is almost over and there's not an anthem that truly defines this summer. Some songs fall into that category, but the masses haven't decided on one singular banger like usual. I've taken the liberty of picking out a few songs that could hold that distinction. I'll let you be the judge.

Ella Mai- Boo’d Up

This song  was originally on Ella Mai’s Ready EP which was released last year. But somehow it resurfaced this year and created a  life of its own. I appreciate the “Trust the process” story. Ella Mai is deserving of all this attention he’s getting. Everybody loves it especially the guys.

Drake - Nice for What

It’s not Summer without a club anthem from Drake. From the song to the visual, you can tell this was dedicated more to the women out there working hard and looking simultaneously. He made it clear for the women that this was the summer to start acting up and letting the men know what time it was. .

YG - Big Bank

Everybody loves a ratchet west coast style single from YG alongside DJ Mustard on the production boards. Its felt good to hear Mustard & YG linking back up again for Stay Dangerous. You can't help but do your dance when “My bitch drive an all white range/ Couldn't hit if you niggas had aim..” first comes on.

Jay Rock - WIN

This isn’t just a song. It’s a Life mantra that the people strive to live for in life. This was the perfect to officially kick off Jay Rock’s run with Redemption, which happens to be one of top rap albums albums so far in 2018. Once again the TDE brand remains strong.

Tory Lanez ft Rich The Kid - Talk to Me

I was having a tough time trying to choose between BID and Talk to Me but the chorus alone for Talk to Me is so catchy that it just rolls off of your tongue with ease. Tory is planning to drop a new project Love Me Now right after releasing his Sophomore Effort Memories Don’t Die.

Drake - In My Feelings

When i first heard this record on the night Scorpion released, I already knew this was going to be a smash single, between the New Orleans influence and Drake giving City Girls catching a huge look, it had all of the ingredients for a successful moment. And it all kicked off when comedian Shiggy started the “In My Feelings” challenge.

Khalid ft Ty Dolla Sign & 6lack - On the Way

The visual and vibe of this song gave me 90s vibes with a twist. It’s always great to hear feel good R&B records that you just automatically know is going to stand the test of time especially when hearing great young R&B acts. Ty Dolla currently on his run with best guest features in 2018 so far meanwhile everyone is anticipating 6lack’s next album release at any moment.

Valee ft Jeremih - Womp Womp

The rising stardom of Chicago rapper Valee has been an trajectory to watch this year from his debut EP GOOD Job, You Found to Me to watching other rappers try and imitate his rap flow.  This is one of the records that helps highlight the up-and-coming Valee. I'm looking forward to hearing his next project with Cardo to see where he’s going to go next with his music.

Tyga ft Offset - Taste

With all of the constant slander and jokes that the masses have made towards rapper Tyga, we forget about his ability to keep a hit record under his belt. At first I wasn’t sure what to think about the reactions to the song, but after listening and living with this song, I was sold. Between that, his other record Swish, and his new LA Leakers Freestyle, I’m liking what he’s doing with his music and hope he continues this streak of great music.

The Internet, Buddy, and the Pursuit of Timelessness
Columbia Records

Columbia Records

RCA Records

RCA Records

“I got inspired by what she was talking about, and that night I did the drum beat and piano part for ‘Back to Black' and put tons of reverb on the tambourine. She’s deceivingly nonchalant, and when I played it for her the next day, she said, ‘It’s wicked,’ but I couldn’t tell if she meant it. Then she was like, ‘This is what I want my album to sound like.’

She would come in every day and play me songs on the acoustic guitar, and we’d try different arrangements to find something that felt authentic. The reason everyone goes back to those Motown records is that there were amazing musicians playing together in a room, and that’s what we tried to do.” - DJ/Producer Mark Ronson on creating the classic album Back to Black by Amy Winehouse

We are living in the most prolific time in music history, in terms of output; which is great because it offers fans a wide selection of new material to listen to from their current and new favorite artists. It's also disorienting for avid fanatics; it feels like a chore to keep up with the latest releases on a weekly basis. A project could receive critical and universal praise, only to be shuffled into the ether and forgotten about merely weeks later. Something like the Kendrick and TDE-curated Black Panther OST are a distant memory six months later.

With the rapid pace of material being produced daily (and with social media playing a role as an accelerant), six weeks ago might as well be six months ago in this current climate. There's an argument to be had about whether or not an artist should excessively drop multiple projects (3-4 or more) in the same calendar year. Experts like Curren$y and Future are revered for such a tactic because they meet the standards of what their loyal fan base approves of; at the very least, a handful of tracks can be taken away for high replay value beyond the life of "opening weekend."

It begs the question, though: is a compilation of greatest hits, in the long run, more valuable and more memorable than a discography filled with individual bodies of work with the most cohesion from front to back? What trumps all is having a bold authenticity to your craft. Far too often many artists on the urban scene catch the most popular wave, with the hopes of hitting a crest and ride it until the crash into the shore. We all hear it. Certain flows, cadences, vocal effects, drum patterns, hi-hat tempo, rhyme schemes, etc. get recycled into mediocrity. It's reheated microwave shit. It's digestible, but the quality is noticeably poorer. 

Important pioneers like Chicago's laidback rapper Valee has created a new style that's catchy and infectious in the best way possible. His "Ijustwokeupgaudyrapsthatflowlikerunonsentences" is already getting bitten by other rappers. Like his overall demeanor in his raps and interviews, he's not worried about it.

"I never get the time to get mad [about other rappers stealing this flow] because I'm so happy that they didn't do it right...you're so big [popular, well-known]...but you can't do something right" - Valee

Separating yourself from the crowd with authenticity and being distinctly unique has the best chance of success beyond the life of a current wave. In this fast-paced digital age of new music, The Internet and Buddy slowed things way down with their latest efforts, Hive Mind, and Harlan & Alondra, respectively. These California natives took the scenic route, via different paths, to their most mature and complete sounding records to date.


It's only been three weeks since the release date, but Harlan & Alondra already sounds nostalgic.  The foundation of this soundtrack, provided by Los Angeles residents Mike & Keys (Nipsey Hussle, Dom Kennedy, Casey Veggies), DJ Khalil, Terrance Martin, and Scoop DeVille among others, helped create an atmosphere that felt true to the region they were raised in. Without sounding forced, the production could easily replace the scores to Menace II Society or Boyz in the Hood and it wouldn't sound foreign or out of place. Sonically, Harlan & Alondra is an ode to its predecessors like Dr. Dre's The Chronic, DJ Quik's Way 2 Fonky, and Doggystyle by Snoop, who makes an energetic and youthful cameo on the groovy "The Blue." Soulful and g-funk-inspired, Buddy doesn't forget the roots that influenced him musically growing up in Compton, CA.

Despite being only 24 years old, Buddy has more than half a decade under his belt in this industry. As he raps on the introspective Find Me 2, "the last nigga signed to Star Trak" has had connections with Pharrell since the early 2010s, and they "still keep in contact," (he co-produced the final track on the album, Shine). Having that experience lends to the composure he displays throughout the album while talking about his trials and tribulations with slick raps and soulful crooning. Growth with his personal development from a reckless youth to a productive young adult is evident throughout this 12-track project. The album's peak, Trouble on Central shows Buddy's range as he melodically raps, bops and sings about his past situation and how he dreamed of something outside the view of his hood.

Just so good at being in trouble
Spending my days out in the ghetto
Papa say that I need to be careful

Heard a nigga just got popped at the Arco
Pros on the hoes stroll, junkies on narcos
Long Beach, Compton, Watts to South Central
Damn, I just can't wait 'til I get home (shit)
That's when a cop had pulled me over

“I feel relieved,” he says. “It’s like taking a shit. I had it in me for so long and now it’s just out into the world, just flushed.”

Buddy has crude humor about his debut album, which was nine years in the making, but judging by how well put together it was, one can tell how seriously he took this project. From the aggressively hype and proud Black featuring ASAP Ferg, to the cool, breezy, and light Hey Up There featuring Rev. Ty Dolla $ign, Buddy's range as a captivating musician is on full display. Named after the cross-street he grew up on, Harlan & Alondra is extremely personal to Buddy, both lyrically true and sonically native to his home environment.


Hive Mind, as of December 2017, was 95% finished, yet it only came out on July 20th, 2018. The hype was plenty, but the crew wasn't bothered by that pressure. It was fine-tuned to the highest of qualities. There's a certain maturity that comes with independence; branching out to do solo projects definitely contributed to their growth as a group. The opening track Come Together literally does that, as if it's a collective "oh what's good?" to the homies you haven't seen in a while. Every single element of the band is audible on this airy song, sounding sharper than ever.

I feel like this is on a higher echelon than Ego Death. I love Ego Death, that was a great record, but I know this one is a step up." - Steve Lacy

It's incredibly grown. Like, if you get passed the aux cord at your family's annual cookout, mixed with younger cousins and great-grandparents, this album is a safe medium that'll be impressionable to both crowds. Funk, soul, jazz, RnB, and electronic music are blended together for a groove-filled entertaining mix from start to finish. Syd hang-glides as a vocalist and constantly shows her versatility. On Stay the Night for example, her verses are delivered as relaxed jabs right before she hits a breathy stride into the bridge. One of the major standouts, the somber It Gets Better (With Time) evokes strong emotions from her vocals alone.

The lyrics are even more of gut punch:

Is something wrong?
'Cause you seem mighty low
Tell me what's going on
Probably been there before
Sit up and fix your face
You see me, I'm okay
We ain't got time today
Throw on your darker shades and
Smile for the camera

Balance is important; songs like the bass and percussion-driven Steve & Syd duet Roll (Burbank Funk) and the light-hearted upbeat groove of La Di Da provide just that. Girl chasing, love makin', heartbreak, self-care are universal themes in not only soul and RnB, but life in general. The Internet connected on these from a maturely confident point of view.

Staying true to self is something that'll never go out of style. Why be a copycat in an increasingly artificial world? Eventually, hit chasing is bound to lead to fatigue and it's even worse when it's not legitimate. It's not sustainable long term.

In the quote at the start of the piece, Amy Winehouse and Mark Ronson were aiming to create something authentic with lasting effects and used the Motown era as an example. He wasn't equating the two directly (I hope) but was showing how important it was to take the time to make the best possible thing as best as they can.

Slowing down the pace to focus on the long-term isn't always a bad idea. Even if wide-spread love isn't immediately shown, Harlan & Alondra and Hive Mind are two bodies of work that'll live beyond 2018. If done correctly, the culture will always accept and respect, futuristic throwbacks rooted in authenticity. The Internet and Buddy did just that.

M.I.D. Summer: Three takeaways from the Wyoming sessions

Chaos begets excellence in the strange world of Kanye West. At least it used to. It's similar to T'Challa's advanced body armor: the more negative blows Ye's accumulates, the stronger his kinetic energy becomes when working on the latest composition. History has proven that he thrives in a chaotic environment, which is often self-made by spewing outlandish statements or ranting on stage psychotically.

Source: Chris Rock

Source: Chris Rock

We've seen this narrative play out several times over his solo career. It's like a Sixth Sense for Kanye loyalists: he just made an ass out of himself publicly...but that means he's about to drop some fire for the summer. From the Mike Myers headjerk (once) to the Taylor Swift incident (twice) to the public scolding of media personalities (the keyboard need an infinity sign), Kanye has never shied away from controversy. It's the catalyst that drives the conceptually forward-thinking music creative that's within. Until 2018.

This method showed signs of deterioration during the manic frenzy that was The Life of Pablo era in 2016. Although it was widely considered to be a lower-tier release in his catalog, TLOP provided flashes of brilliance like the chilling and cinematic "Ultralight Beam" that reminded many fans why they put up with Kanye's bullshit outside of the music.

Even the shaky rollout that was all-but-off-the-rails culminated with one of 2016's biggest events in entertainment: Yeezy Season 3, a runway show that doubled as an album release party for 18,000 people at a sold out Madison Square Garden. Lasting memories were created there while his ignorance off the boards was brushed to the side (but not forgotten).

We're a little more than a month removed from the last release from the Wyoming Sessions and it's becoming increasingly obvious that the self-proclaimed genius had failed with his experiment in the grandest of ways. "Failed" because of the collective lack of care for the final execution of the projects. "In the grandest of ways," because of the collateral damage he caused along the way (see: "Slavery was a Choice" and M*GA/Dragon Energy).

When he announced the lineup of five consecutive weeks of new releases - Pusha-T, himself, Kid Cudi & himself, Nas, and Teyana Taylor - while primarily handling the production as well, it was safe to assume that G.O.O.D. Fridays were finally back.

Nope.

Compared to Hawaii and the glorious run in 2010 resulting in a classic album, the Wyoming Sessions proved to be weird cousin Arnie from Hey Arnold: recognizable, but awkwardly shaped and dull. Aside from the whole Drake fiasco, it was hardly a Cruel Summer from the vaunted G.O.O.D. Music camp. But it wasn't a complete trainwreck. 

Here are a few thoughts I had about the "experience" overall:


1. Pusha-T was the Trojan Horse of the experiment

DAYTONA had to work. As the pace car for this five-week circuit, it had to be damn near perfect; to many, it lived up to expectations. If the long-awaited true follow-up to My Name is My Name was anything less than stellar, the already mild anticipation for the rest of Wyoming would have dried up even quicker. Serving up the purest brick of Peruvian white, the G.O.O.D. Music President delivered his best solo project to date with DAYTONA; raw, cut with no filler whatsoever.

Ye & Mike Dean really shined with the minimalist production paired with gritty sampling to create a menacing atmosphere. His delivery is grimy, yet relaxed and confident like it hasn't aged a day since Lord Willin'. Most importantly, there were no stale bars or wasted lines from Push; similar to a technical boxer accruing points over the course of a fight to earn the decision in the 12th round, as opposed to the knockout artist getting winded by the fifth bell. For an added measure to retain maximum attention towards Wyoming, there was "The Story of Adidion."

Terrance and Aubrey have traded their fair share of subs in years prior (essentially over a BAPE hoody), but after the scope of the battle was lined up with "Infrared," Drake quickly responded with a clip that has presumably in the chamber for a while, saved for a moment like this. "Aight, bet," said the Virginia Beach native and proceeded to expose a lot of shit about Drizzy that the public wasn't privy to (sidenote: you're allowed to enjoy Scorpion AND still think "YOU ARE HIDING A CHILD" is hilarious too. Let these jokes breathe).

There's an unconfirmed report from a credible source that Ye learned about Aubrey's now-public son when he brought Drake to Wyoming for a writing session. If this is true, it's very possible that Kanye gave this ammo to Pusha-T, strategically use him as a conduit to create a huge controversy for maximum attention. If so, it might be time for Kanye to reevaluate his promotional tactics. The numbers and metrics may have inflated because of it, but is a (supposed) shady move like worth a loss of credibility, Ye?

2. Nas and Teyana Taylor deserved better, especially Teyana

Teyana Taylor signed to G.O.O.D Music in 2012. Since then, she's had 1. a few placements on Cruel Summer; 2. released VII, a solid, but under the radar studio album; 3. an incredibly skilled and sexy performance for the "FADE" music video. Limited as they may be, she has shined with every opportunity given to her and has been patiently waiting to show the world why she should be considered a true force in RnB. An album executively produced by arguably one of the most important producers since the start of the millennium was supposed to launch her to that height.

Keep That Same Energy deserved a traditional and proper rollout, complete with lead singles and visuals to match. Hell, at the very least, she deserved a completed album. Waking up to texts from friends, the day after it was supposed to drop (!), when it didn't, to realize it wasn't the final version you thought was coming out (!!), should never be the way to first hear your "completed" album. Teyana sang her ass off on KTSE, but the production and final mixing arrangment felt incomplete.

And with Nas, I don't know. Maybe Escobar Season was experiencing Climate Change 'cause this ain't it, chief. And he knows that. The album felt rushed and disjointed, as if the lyrics were recorded acapella and blindly matched to beat stems at the last minute, without any final input from the artist.

On the process of recording with Kanye. “Wyoming was weird.” 😅 pic.twitter.com/5dX9cv5auB

— Eric Diep (@E_Diep) July 27, 2018

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When I heard the news about NASIR, I was expecting seven "We Major" level tracks.  That bar was set way too high. But it looks like a more carefully thought out, traditional hip-hop project from Nas is coming soon:

And another Nas album on the way. He has been in with Swizz Beatz and RZA. pic.twitter.com/E9uaZLvi0o

— Eric Diep (@E_Diep) July 27, 2018

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3. Rev. Ty Dolla $ign and 070 Shake are co-MVPs of the Wyoming Summer League

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TY Dolla Sign

The five TY$ tracks every new fan needs to know

Not much to say about Ty; in 2018 he has definitively cemented his status as an RnB star with his incredible run over the past three years, a run that started with Free TC. Many jokes flew about the mediocre nature and output of the Wyoming Sessions, but none of these shots landed in the vicinity of $.  Say what you will about Kanye, but he's a veteran at utilizing his guest features as elements on instrumentals in bold and sublime ways. Ty Dolla $ign's harmonizing and gospel-esq vocals stole the show on "All Mine," "3Way," "Wouldn't Leave," and "Freeee (Ghost Town Pt 2)." 

070 Shake, however, didn't have an established base prior to the Wyoming experience. Being a relatively unknown artist, the New Jersey native had the most to prove, and, when called upon, brushed off that chip on her shoulder with ease. She undoubtly made a mark with a distinct and haunting vocal presence on "Santeria," "Ghost Town," and "Not For Radio,"; songs that feature Push, Ye, Cudi, PARTYNEXTDOOR, Nas, and Diddy. Not a terrible way to start off one's career. If she's not shelved as a background artist only brought out for experiments (*coughs* Teyana deserved better), then the sky's the limit for Shake's future with G.O.O.D.


Kids See Ghosts did take us a little over a year-and-a-half to just get it tight and where we wanted it to be... Months went by, and we just kept working on it and chiseling away at it. It was funny to us when people were talking about how the album was rushed or last-minute. I knew what it took. I was there the whole time. - Kid Cudi for Billboard; July 2018

Many consider Kids See Ghosts as the most well-round project to come out Wyoming. Stripped of excessive arrogance, Kanye and Cudi (whose hums were in peak form) created a powerful 7-track diary of sorts, detailing their bouts with depression and mental health. The primary influencers of Mike Dean, Plain Pat, and Dot the Genius, as they've done on previous work (i.e. 808s & Heartbreak, Man on the Moon) made the duo sound as sharp as they've been in the past decade. Thoughts can be birthed quickly and finalizing the product could take 7 days, but that kind of focus to make sure that the arrangement of sounds and performance from the lyricists/singers normally isn't overnight.

It can work for some, but it's not for everyone. Aside from Kanye playing active defense against the opening track's attempt at not sounding like a trainwreck, KSG had a sense of completeness that ye (lyrics scrapped and recreated in 8 days), KTSE, and NASIR did not have.

Music opinions are subjective and number ratings are arbitrary but if I'd have to rate the Wyoming experience, it'd be 2.5/5; the 2 representing the successes (DAYTONA and KSG), the .5 representing the half-baked ideas of the other 3.

Each collection arguably had at least one song with replay value beyond 1-listen:

1. Push's grizzly and boastful "The Games We Play" (No jewelry on, but you richer than everybody // You laugh a little louder, the DJ say your name a little prouder //And we don't need a globe to show you the world is ours);

2. "No Mistakes" featuring Charlie Wilson (I'm definitely gonna need an hour-long Kanye-less version that loops Uncle Charlie's chorus like what someone did with the horns from SpottieOttieDopaliscious);

3. A therapeutic Cudi glides on "Reborn" which featured a Kanye that suddenly remembered how to rap his ass off on a Graduation era type of feel for the overall song;

4. "Bonjour" feels like the perfect soundtrack to sail along the Amalfi Coast to, boo'd up, with a never-ending glass of expensive alcohol in hand, without a care in the world. NASIR deserved 6 more of these.

5. From the raps and to boldly sang vocals, Teyana bodied her performance on the sample-driven and orchestral "Rose in Harlem." KTSE suffered the most from "demoitis," but she, as best as she could, rose to shine from the fractured cement better known as the Wyoming Sessions;

Five Ty Dolla Sign jams new fans should check out immediately

If you’re reading this & have officially joined the Ty Dolla Sign bandwagon, I would like to personally welcome you to the team. It’s been a long time coming but we’re ecstatic to see that you’ve finally risen from your sleep and accepted The Bishop into your life as one of few present talented R&B acts of 2018.

Ty Dolla has an extensive catalogue - from the Beach House series to his upcoming collab MihTy with Jeremih. Some of us were here from the beginning, but for those of you who are new to the team, here's five Ty Dolla Sign tracks to help start your journey.

Lord Knows (Feat. Dom Kennedy & Rick Ross)

This is one of the standout songs on his mixtape Sign Language. Prior to it’s release, the song was leaked. From hearing the Bishop singing about adjusting to life after blowing up from his music and wondering where the groupies morals go to Dom Kennedy being starstruck over a chick he met either at Starbucks or Coffee Bean. And you can't forget Rozay and his boss talk raps.

Miracle (Feat. Big TC)

What makes this song so special is how Dolla Sign’s brother Big TC carries this record despite his circumstances. Free TC was dedicated it to Big TC who is currently serving a life sentence in prison for a crime that he allegedly didn’t commit. Ty used this album as a means to bring awareness of circumstances like what his brother is in.

Horses in the Stable

One of the five best songs on Free TC, Horses in the Stable describes Ty’s sex life in a unique way. What makes this oath more interesting was allegedly this song was written by a woman. If that’s the case, then it’s no wonder why the song holds its ground.

Droptop in the Rain

One of the newer songs off his Beach House 3 tape. Everything about this record sounds right. Beach House 3 is the album that we realized that Ty & Hitmaka (the former Yung Berg) have great chemistry when it comes to artist & producer collaborations. .

1st Night/ 4 a Young Remix

Beach House 2 has some really great records on there for you to jam out to. 1st Night just so happens to be one of those records. Who knew The Bishop could make “having a one night stand” sound so romantic. However things do take a dark turn once we get to the the 2nd half, 4 A Young Remix.