Chicago rapper Chancellor Bennett, better known as Chance the Rapper, wears his heart and his influences on his sleeve on his second mixtape “Acid Rap”. His strange, theatrical delivery style recalls recent artists like Danny Brown and Kendrick Lamar, with a fair helping of classic weirdos like Fatlip, Baatin, even a little Pimp C for good measure. Often his raps aren’t even raps at all; his vocal style borrows liberally from dancehall, gospel and soul. “Acid Rap” is about a lot of things – drugs, gang violence and grilled cheese – but mostly it’s a self-portrait in the form of an album, wherein Chance mines his surroundings, his relationships, his behavior and his inner thoughts for some insight into who he is, a potent example of how youthful self-narrativization can make for powerful, even political art.
For example, the album’s second track, “Pusha Man” sounds like art-nerd version of a mid-90s UGK song; Chance raps like a classically trained actor playing a rapper in a movie, which is actually pretty great. His energy is matched by a lush instrumental built out of warm 1970s style organs, airy female vocals and a screwed-down hook. Its cheerful tune and noble-hustler archetype build a false-sense of revelry which is abruptly cut short by thirty seconds of silence. It’s a ballsy move to try the old CD-era hidden track trick so early on the tape, but it commands full attention from casual listeners who may have lost themselves in the fun melodies of the first song.
Stream: Chance The Rapper - Pusha Man (ft. Nate Fox & Lili K.)
On the hidden song, “Paranoia,” Chance explores his feelings of malaise and fear over a woozy beat from Nosaj Thing. As the track progresses, he becomes increasingly direct. “They murder kids here / why you think they don’t talk about it? / They deserted us here,” begins his second verse. Chicago is a deeply segregated city with a steady flow of illegal guns. Murder saturates a few South and West communities, even as it pops up consistently across the map. And after the long, harsh winter ends, a boggy, midwestern summer takes its place. Most people don’t have air conditioning here and the summers keep getting hotter. On the news, you hear about old folks dying of heat stroke. On the hottest days, the public beaches that stretch along the lakeshore are packed with people. These are also the worst days for violence and killing. “Acid Rap” is a spring album, and it is with dread for the immediate future that Chance reveals, “I hope it storm in the morning, I hope that it’s pouring out / I hate crowded beaches, I hate the sound of fireworks.” “I know you’re scared, he says, to middle-class Northside Chicagoans who refuse to ride south of Roosevelt, to the national news media eager to brand Chicago a scary war-zone, to a government willing to use this city as a political talking point despite never addressing its actual problems, “you should ask us if we scared too.” It’s an indictment of everyone who wants to treat the South Side as a terrifying bogeyman in neighborhood form while ignoring the lives of the actual human beings who live there.
Stream: Chance The Rapper - Smoke Again (ft. Ab-Soul)
Remarkably, Chance maintains this high level of lush production and innovative rapping throughout the mixtape, showing an incredible emotional range, from despondent numbness (“Lost”) to ecstatic love for his fellow human (“That’s Love”). Collaborations with Childish Gambino, Action Bronson, and Ab-Soul later in the album break up the overwhelming wackiness of Chance’s rap style, which could become tiring were it not paired with such catchy, melodic production. “Cocoa Butter Kisses,” which features legendary Chicago speed-rapper Twista on a particularly geeky verse, finds Chance lamenting how his smoking habits have alienated his mother and friends. On “Everybody’s Something,” which has breezy chorus from local R&B singer BJ the Chicago Kid, Chance is at his most posi. He delivers corny lines like “if [God's] son had a twitter I wonder would I follow him” with his tongue squarely in his cheek, and trippy aphorisms like “everybody’s somebody’s everything.” His melodic flow is pushed to odd extremes on “Smoke Again,” featuring Black Hippy member Ab-Soul, where Chance sings, shouts, and dips into a heart-wrenching Future-esque vocal fry that demonstrates Chance’s abilities as performer.
Stream: Chance The Rapper - Acid Rain
“Acid Rap” is a deeply personal, intimate album that rarely veers outside of Chance’s world of friends, family, girls, and his neighborhood; at the same time, Chance discusses these topics with great nuance, relishing in rather than fleeing from his own ambivalence. His persona is huge, complex, even contradictory. One minute he’s singing #based truisms about love, the next he’s wishing herpes on a girl. Chance’s occasional dips into cruelty or aggression do not negate the dizzying peaks of his more positive songs because they feel equally honest. “If you touch my brother,” he raps on “Acid Rain,” “all that anti-violence shit goes out the window along with you and the rest of your team.” The song is something of a thesis statement for an album bursting at the seams with artistic and thematic detours; Chance raps, or rather says, with resignation, “sometimes the truth don’t rhyme.” The mixtape portrays a complex young man who wants to be good and fill the world with the love and peace, but his environment and the expectations placed upon him stand in his way. Ultimately his empathy and optimism overshadow his incidental nastiness. Chance doesn’t seem to know who he is, or who he wants to be, which is a perfectly reasonable place for a 20-year-old poet with a sensitive streak and penchant for psychedelic drugs.
Stream Acid Rap: https://soundcloud.com/chancetherapper/sets/chance-the-rapper-acid-rap (via Soundcloud)
Download Acid Rap: http://www.datpiff.com/Chance-The-Rapper-Acid-Rap-mixtape.483826.html (via DatPiff)
“Even people who think we’re too commercial, which I don’t think we are at all, I say to them: what would you rather hear on the radio, “White Noise” or David Guetta? They can’t say anything back to that.” – Guy Lawrence, Disclosure
It was unsettling to many when Disclosure first appeared on the scene. Two years ago, in the Summer of 2011, the young brothers from Surrey released a free EP that introduced them to a bigger audience. In the title track and most popular song off the record, “Carnival”, the two brothers efficiently borrowed from the sounds the rest of the world referred to as the ‘UK sound’, as well as another slew of puzzling genre names (future garage, post-dubstep, bass music, etcetera). The EP was exemplary of the wave of bedroom producers who were listening to “Hyph Mngo” on single repeat for months at the time; the release sounded a little too familiar and rehashed. Fast forward two years later and the brothers Lawrence have taken the international charts by storm. Disclosure’s output has evolved from a bedroom cliche into the catchiest of dance floor orientated pop music. Their music is embraced by many listeners worldwide but there is still a big group of music pundits who not only think Disclosure’s music is still unsettling (to each their own) but also think that the brothers have no place in the charts. And this is where they’re wrong.
To go back to Guy Lawrence’s aforementioned quote, the difference in having a choice between David Guetta and Disclosure should not be a separation of good and bad. The subjective matter of taste is always going to be a never-ending debate. The real question here is, would you rather have generic music topping the charts that has been endlessly processed and ghost-written by oodles of musicians hired by major labels with profit as the only end goal? Or would you rather listen to the music of two regular guys who write their own tracks which happen to be highly accessible in the process? If we were to make a choice we’d pick the latter, and by no means would this be a forced option because if music is accessible and catchy, it doesn’t have to linearly compensate on quality. This is something that people often forget in such debates within house music, but make exceptions for in other genres. Where Disclosure singles are accused of being mind-numbing and saccharine, people are quicker to forgive musicians like Justin Timberlake, AlunaGeorge, Skream and Rick Ross for doing the same thing. There’s no harm in admitting all of them are good at what they’re intending to do.
The idea that Disclosure are a threat to music, whether we are talking about house or pop, is false. We can’t help but think of the whole brostep fiasco that occurred over the last two years. Skrillex came, saw and conquered the world while the misanthropist steppers were curled up in fetal position waiting for their beloved DMZ records to self destruct. This never happened. In fact, a lot of dubstep producers are still making good music and promoting great nights, whether they stuck with their original sounds or moved on to something else. If anything killed the old dubstep sounds that people were protective about, it was time: people gained great memories but were ready for something different. As it turns out, niche music fans have an irrational fear that their favourite music will be ruined by exposing it to a broader audience and the commotion that surrounds Disclosure is another example of this.
Many naysayers are quick to dismiss Disclosure as watered down house that’s been cleaned up with the sole purpose of catering to a larger audience. Ironically, most of such backlash originates from industry members that do exactly the same thing. The only difference is that usually the source of inspiration stems from genres that lie further away from what is generally familiar to us. In any case, what exactly is wrong with this so-called watering down of a sound? In reality, this watering down boils down to drawing from certain inspirations to create a new sound that is more accessible to a new audience. This is simply a natural progression of music. If Disclosure are wrong for paying homage to their house heroes, then the killjoys should be consistent and dismiss house innovators for reimagining the likes of Sugarhill Gang or The Supremes and dubstep producers for sampling the likes of Johnny Osbourne or even Alicia Keys. At this point, most genres originate as reinterpretations of another sound, and purists who constantly root for the safekeeping of genres are rooting against evolution of music. Throughout all of this we should remember that there’s no rules against being a proponent of both a genre and its evolved form. No one will kick up a fuss if you like both Ralph Tresvant and R. Kelly or Just Blaze and Hudson Mohawke, unless you count the pretense police.
If you want to judge Disclosure’s music in an honest way, separate their personalities from their records. Popular Disclosure denunciations are that they are not as scholarly about the history of music as producers that emerged from their scene are expected to be, and that they are ‘too young to be good producers’. Very often these two lines of reasoning exist in unison, but they are both groundless arguments. If you, for example, dislike Disclosure for supporting old school Detroit hip-hop or selecting Marcellus Pittman in their mixes because the Lawrence brothers are ‘too naive to understand that kind of music’, then that says more about your own attitude towards music than theirs. It is a frankly ridiculous belief that being present during the uprising of a certain genre is essential to understanding its music. In this case, Disclosure are simply spreading the word on music they love, and such background information is usually targeted at fans of their output. Unfortunately, it’s mostly those who oppose their music that harp on their quotes and interviews to point out once again what they’re doing wrong.
At this point, it seems as though Disclosure brings out a special breed of bitterness and hate in their opponents, where it borders hate for the sake of hating itself rather than solid and constructive criticisms of the duo. Where others are given a free pass, Disclosure are never cut the same amount of slack. In February of last year, Skrillex won three Grammys for his work and paid respects to the origins of dubstep by shouting out Croydon in his acceptance speech. Even opponents of his music couldn’t deny this humble and respectable move and gave the American musician his credit where it was due at the time. When Disclosure cite influences such as Kerri Chandler and Todd Edwards as defining artists to their sound, the guys saluting their roots gets nothing but backlash. It’s still unknown what warrants such undeviating opposition to Disclosure’s every move, but the fact that it is often hypocritical and erratic is certain.
If you think Disclosure have no distinctive musical identity, then you’re not paying enough attention. Their music might not be for you, but the argument that their discography is a ‘house music rip-off’ is past its prime. Because an artist isn’t an integral part of the origins of a scene itself doesn’t mean that they cannot draw inspiration from it, or make music that falls within that particular genre. During the period that the Lawrences have actively been putting out music, they defined a clear-cut sound that has their name written all over it. They might not be the first to use those polished stab chords, distinct vocal editing, and garage bass lines in their tracks, but they are definitely the only ones who successfully refine these different elements into a well-produced poppy sound that is theirs and finished to boot. Even though there have been other artists who tried to tackle the same atmosphere, Disclosure’s precision in handling it has been unprecedented. If you hand over a playlist consisting of fifty house tracks with two Disclosure tracks hidden in there to a person with the slightest bit of knowledge about dance music, they’ll be able to pick out the Disclosure tracks in there upon first listen.
It is a little discomforting that people still get upset over Disclosure topping charts and reaching the status of one of the most successful electronic music duos of the year. We live in an unprecedented musical era where artist and genre growth is exponential. Almost anything has become accessible. The borders between genres are blurring and it only makes sense that there is no particular defining sound of this era. This, ironically, defines our time and place. To lay the blame of such confusions on these two young artists in particular is excessive. It might be unsettling that we live in such a fragile time where things are constantly changing, which contrasts our past well-defined eras that we are used to in music. But rather than sitting in an immobile, paralyzed state of complaint, why don’t we embrace the openness of this and stop criticising every genre-crossing dynamic? We, for one, are more than ready for Disclosure’s debut album, and if it lives up to our expectations we hope it hits the Billboard album charts. One Nile Rodgers and one Jamie Woon can’t be wrong.
Stream: Disclosure – When A Fire Starts To Burn (PMR Records)
To paraphrase Digital Mystikz, you were wrong, we don’t want to fuss and fight tonight. Let’s all unite.
Written by: Soraya Brouwer & Sindhuja Shyam.
Words by Truants, 23 May 2013. Leave a comment
Hailing from the sleepy little town of Pensacola, Florida, Kodak to Graph first cropped up on our radar a few years ago with “I keep Holding On“, a tune sampling Jackson 5’s ‘I’ll be there’, and pulling on all those post-dubstep / Burial vibes and ghostly vocals that we love so much. Having kept an eye on him ever since, it’s been really lovely to see an artist really grow and hone their sound with every new release like Michael Maleki, the man behind Kodak to Graph, has. Producing a plethora of ambient electronic music over the past year Michael has managed to craft a sound that is so dream-like and shimmeringly sweet, that it’s not surprising he’s gained a good amount of loyal listeners; for it seems that once hooked, you’re easily reeled in. “Rakshasa“ is the next monthly instalment Michael releases through the label Bad Panda Records, a label believing that ”we can carry a free culture into the twenty-first century, without artists losing and without the potential of digital technology being destroyed”. Seems idealistic, but we’re not here debating Creative Commons or their manifesto, we’re here to showcase some of the brilliant new music they’re backing and thank them for making it freely downloadable on both Bad Panda Records’ and Kodak to Graph’s Soundcloud pages.
Stream: Kodak to Graph – Rakshasa (feat. Monsoonsiren) (Bad Panda Records)
After releasing “Departure“ on Bad Panda Records last month, a track that was so ambient-ly relaxed in its style with only the faintest hint of trap, and that featured the ethereal and distorted sound of Imogen Heap’s ‘Just For Now’, it could be said that his movement and growth in the creating of “Rakshasa“ is a perfect progression. Like in past productions, Kodak to Graph stays true to his style and pays special attention to detailed layering and luscious melodies, and even tips to an Middle Eastern influence, which seems actually pretty fitting considering the title “Rakshasa” is apparently said to mean a “mythological humanoid being or unrighteous spirit” in Hinduism. It seems almost wrong then that the beginning of the track is the opposite of “unrighteous”, it’s peaceful, and holy-like in its crescendo. It’s not until the last minute where the title of the track becomes apparent, sampling Harvey Stripes “Dolly On That Molly“ ft Juicy J, does it arrive at a somewhat gritty counterpart of its beginning. It would seem this new direction could have been helped along by Nathan Menon, a young producer from Bengaluru, India going by the name of Monsoonsiren, who features alongside Kodak to Graph on this new release. We’re eagerly anticipating the next release from Kodak to Graph, so whilst we wait, here’s his latest Mirror Lock EP to wrap your ears around, and if that isnt enough, head over to Soundcloud and check out Isle, Michael Maleki’s less sample-based sound working with a full band and input from multiple individuals. Why would you not?
Words by Jess Melia, 23 May 2013. Leave a comment
Adam Marshall has been involved with music in one form or another since the late nineties. Whether trafficking records and Underground Resistance t-shirts over the Canadian border or throwing parties with a core group of friends in response to rave music, he has kept his feet firmly planted in musical soil. For the better half of the last decade he has produced music under his own name and released music from the likes of The Mole, Basic Soul Unit, and West Norwood Cassette Library through his label New Kanada. With the music and creative landscape in constant shift Adam has partnered up with another artist hailing from Toronto, XI. After meeting outside of their hometown in Berlin, the pair decided to start a live project. During one of the first warm days of the season in Berlin we sat down with Adam Marshall to chat about Toronto and his Graze project with Christian Andersen.
Why don’t we start at the beginning, we know you were active in the music scene during the nineties. How did those past experiences help you? “In the mid nineties I started getting into electronic music and the culture back in Toronto, quite heavily. At the time the rave scene in Toronto was going crazy and things were really big and impersonal. Right around that time a few friends of mine and I kind of started our own little response to what was going on by doing smaller, more focused stuff that we were really passionate about. Being so close to Chicago and Detroit, especially back in the late nineties, a lot of it had that as focus, but because we were in Toronto we had a lot of European influence as well. Back then I also worked at a record store for five years, which was one of the better record stores in the city and that was definitely a nice defining experience. I got familiar with a lot of the music that was coming out at that time and had access to a lot of it.”
Coming up through all of that and sort of getting your electronic music education in that scene how has that influenced the label and the direction you’re taking artistically? “I’d say the one defining thing with Toronto is that there are so many influences. I guess it’s sort of like London. I was influenced by stuff I was really interested in and stuff I was not interested in at all. Now, looking back I can see that mélange of influences really defines a lot of people who come from Toronto, especially after traveling. I’d say that’s definitely followed through with myself as a DJ and producer and ultimately the label because the label moves around a lot stylistically. That whole vibe is where I come from. To kind of be into one thing and stay in it for the sake of it never really occurred to a lot of us.” So you don’t have a singular influence? “I grew up with a lot of influences from a lot of different places and a lot of styles of music, some of which I might not have liked immediately, but through friends and just being open to it I was exposed to a lot of good stuff in different genres. For example, when I started buying records in Toronto at a place called Play De Records. Toronto got every record even way back then, but we’d go in and we’d be the only guys listening to house or techno in the whole store and there’d be people waiting to hear the newest Jamaican 7-inch. At that time I hated it, but I realized those experiences [helped me] like a lot of types of music these days. Those earlier experiences in Toronto really allowed me to be a chameleon, especially with the label.”
How do you usually decide on what to put out on the label? “At the beginning a lot of people I had a relationship to somehow. Lately, I’ve run into some artists over the Internet and if it clicks it just clicks. I don’t really plan a lot in advance with the label. I find that if I let stuff come to me it does. Usually, it’s one or two specially things. Fate seems to run the label quite effectively.”
Stream: Graze – Graze (New Kanada)
You’ve started a project called Graze with XI. When did you become aware of his music? “We didn’t really know each other. We knew of each other through a couple of people. When the dubstep thing was kind of taking off in Toronto Christian was really into that, but there was a lot of terrible stuff in Toronto. I heard some of Christian’s music and I didn’t know what to call it, but it was quite innovative. We never really met because we were from two very different scenes in Toronto. He was from the jungle side of things and I was from the other side. I think we both always had a mutual admiration. Then he moved over here [Berlin] about a year and half ago and I had been talking to him about signing his solo record on New Kanada. When he moved over here we became pretty close and decided to work on music together.”
How soon after you met did you guys decide to start working together? Was your work together spontaneous? “The project wasn’t that casual. We really wanted to do a project together because a lot of the music he represents and produces I was really into and he was getting into a lot of music from where I was coming from, so we knew it might work. We also knew it might be refreshing to work with someone who doesn’t do the exact same type of music. We wanted to get a project together to specifically perform live. That was the plan, assuming it all worked. The underlying idea was to get something we could tour, jam, and perform live with. I’ve been switching a lot into live performances of my own stuff, but I always wanted to do it with someone else and this presented itself, so we jumped on it. It all started working out very quickly. He’s back in Toronto now and we got everything done in about four months, which is pretty good seeing as we were both travelling quite a bit.”
It’s interesting that you wanted this to become a live show immediately. What’s the setup like? “From the live prospective I play with a lot of hardware stuff, but to tell you the truth I’ve been buying gear for so long that the stuff goes in and out, so we’re not really set to particular pieces. The songs were started together in the computer, moved back & forth, and we put the structure together just by file sharing. We were never actually in the same room, apart from mixdowns and when we had the songs done and jammed them out. The actual working on music we did separately. Since we had this in mind from the beginning everything’s ready to be stripped, stemmed, and looped effectively in a more hardware scenario. So the live side is a lot more hardware based, but the creation and production isn’t.” Have you guys played live together yet? “We’ve jammed a lot together, but no official shows yet. We’re not doing any gigs until Mutek because we wanted to wait until the record comes out.”
Playing Mutek as your first gig together is kind of a big deal. Do you guys have any larger goals for you project? “We almost have the next album finished, so that’s the trajectory – releasing a full length, probably in the fall. We just have to figure out where the home is and how that’s going to roll. Again, we’d like to tour with this as much as we can.”
Are shopping the album around? “We don’t have anywhere distinctly in mind and this is what happened with the “Graze” release – we were really happy with it and thinking about getting it on a bigger label, but in the end that just didn’t make sense. I’m happy we went with New Kanada, but as a moving on trajectory I’d consider something else for a full length. I don’t know if New Kanada’s built for full length releases.”
Words by Jonathon Alcindor, 22 May 2013. Leave a comment
On first listen of fthrsn, pinning a genre to what comes next might be difficult. All sorts of sounds circulate around a wailing voice and chants and it’s all somewhat disorienting, but it works in the context of Macklin Underdown’s endeavor. A Performing Arts Technology major at the University of Michigan, his studies have allowed him to “develop skills in music composition, audio/video production, interactive art, code art, and design.” Macklin makes vocal-based bedroom pop (self-described as “lo-fi” and “feel-good”) with distant & inviting vocals that reach higher notes than you’d expect. You can hear the feel-good vibes often in songs like “My First Love” that bring whistles in to carry melodies as his voice sways with the rhythm of the song.
Stream: fthrsn – What Do I Want To Be When I Grow Up
His releases all share themes of loneliness, relationships, coming-of-age, and longing. Some songs can reach out to spacey, twinkling pop combining intricate percussion like “Colors” off his first EP. Others can get a hold of some real emotion like the endearing & devotional closer “Over You” on his most recent release “Middle School Swag“. The song builds in magnitude as it goes – highlighting his talent of adding and removing all the right layers to change the songs direction, yet still piling harmonies of vocals and manipulation to form a distinct, unwavering sound.
Fthrsn shows a range of regional influences across his discography – from oriental sounds of “On Your Way” to the prevailing tropical groove of much of his recordings. A case could be made for a strong Animal Collective influence on an act like fthrsn’s, which blends the same kind of howling you may find from Noah Lennox (aka Panda Bear) with interesting, but still head-nod worthy, rhythms. Above all else, fthrsn’s voice is what’s raising eyebrows; the dude has range, no doubt.
Since 2011, fthrsn has continued to evolve and master a niche sound that’s all too catchy to be avoided. He’s part of GRL MTN, a collective of Michigan musicians (who released a really great compilation last year), and has plenty of material on Youtube featuring some raw and unbridled performances. Check the video below for his song “Middle School Dance” to get the best glimpse into the fthrsn aesthetic and download all his material at his bandcamp, which you can pay to DL or get for free via alternate links on the bandcamp page.
Stream: fthrsn – Middle School Swag
fthrsn’s Middle School Swag is available now.
Words by Kyle Brayton, 20 May 2013. Leave a comment