The Future of Music Producers

What does the increased accessibility and popularity of bedroom music production mean for the music industry?

The Sound is a column on all things music written by Charles Park (’20) and Mark Park (’20). -Ed.

It’s 2019. Computers and phones are more accessible and affordable than ever. A Spotify or Apple Music subscription is at our fingertips. Youtube and Soundcloud are bottomless pits of great music that’s waiting to be heard.

As a result, it’s never been easier to make music.

You may not have noticed, but just in the past few years, a significant chunk of popular music has shifted from being produced in the biggest studios to the smallest bedrooms. An entire generation of underground producers is sending their beats to rappers and singers on Soundcloud, hoping to make it big. Take the example of Ronnyj, a Miami native who was a virtually unknown Soundcloud producer until he sent the beat for “ULTIMATE” to Denzel Curry.

The fruits of this trend extend beyond pop music. How many times has Youtube recommended you a live stream or playlist like this? It’s true: the rising popularity of “lo-fi hip hop” can be attributed to the numerous bedroom producers that make compilations and EPs full of simple, jazz and 90s boom-bap inspired songs that make it onto these playlists.

You might be disappointed to find out, though, that more producers do not necessarily mean more talent. The idea that “anyone can make music” has brought greater diversity and new ideas to the scene, but it’s also created a market for babysitting beginning producers. Here are just some of the reasons why music production has gotten so accessible and popular.

Sample Packs / Melody Packs / Loop Packs / MIDI Packs

My apologies if this breaks the mystery around the music producing process, but most of what music producers come up with, and a lot of what makes it onto the top charts, isn’t even made from scratch. In reality, most of the drum sounds and some of the instrumental melodies you hear are from “sample packs” that can be downloaded or bought from the internet, created by other producers. Sometimes, pulling three to four samples from a sample pack can end up sounding like something that’s ready for Drake or Kanye to rap over. There’s definitely a stigma around using these premade loops and melodies–and rightfully so–but the sample pack industry has become extremely lucrative.

To give you an idea of just how widespread this new business is, take the example of Internet Money. It’s a collective of producers (most notably Nick Mira, the producer of pretty much all Juice WRLD songs) that live together in a giant mansion and make music. A huge portion of their income reportedly comes from the samples they sell on their website. That’s right: samples are lucrative enough to afford a mansion.

Splice

Splice is arguably the best thing that has come from the bedroom producer trend: it’s an app and website that allows you to buy music software and plug-ins on payment plans, share your project files with other users like Dropbox or Google Drive, and browse through a near-endless bank of samples. It’s a great way for beginning producers to dip their toes in the game and see if the temperature right for them. Just from browsing through Splice’s samples, it’s clear where lo-fi hip hop producers get virtually all of their sounds from.

Type Beats

This is the main reason why producing is so appealing to hobbyists: the prospect of making a little pocket money from it. Gone are the days of having to lawyer up to sell a song: today, you can easily “lease” mp3s of your track to vocalists for a flat fee, through middlemen services like Traktrain and Beatstars. Producers post these instrumentals on Youtube with titles like “Drake Type Beat” or “Lil Baby / Gunna Type Beat” as a marketing tactic. Most famously, Desiigner’s song “Panda” was a type beat he bought for $200 from Youtube in 2014. For producers, type beats are a further affirmation that producing can be profitable as much as it is enjoyable.

 

There’s no doubt that as of today, it doesn’t take the same amount of studying music theory, learning the ins and outs of software, and taking classes on audio engineering to make a beat worthy of the Billboard 100. And at this point, it’s clear that no amount of complaining about loop packs or mediocre type beats will reverse the way the music industry has shifted in the last few years. What we can only hope for is that through the bloated market of Frank Ocean type beats on Youtube will come new genres and new sounds, reflective of the unpredictable ebb and flow of the music world.

Featured image: Wallpaper Safari

Rising Artists to Watch in 2019

2018 has been a rich year for music as has expanded the limits of its genre, style, and more. With the start of 2019, learn more about who will expand and lead the music scene for this year.

The Sound is a column on all things music written by Charles Park (’20) and Mark Park (’20). -Ed.

Zacari
Zacari is a new signee of the most prominent Indie Label, Top Dawg Entertainment (TDE) which consists of artists such as Kendrick Lamar, Jay Rock, SZA, and more. Comparing himself as the “lone wolf,” Zacari delivers a new style of music—an amalgamation of Jazz, Soul, Hip-Hop, and lo-fi. The R&B singer first appeared in the public by featuring in Kendrick Lamar’s song “Love.” The song gained significant spotlight due to his mellifluous voice and unique R&B beats style. Then, he featured in the song “Redemption,” Black Panther album, one of the best Original Soundtrack for 2018 consisting of major artists such as Kendrick Lamar, Travis Scott, Khalid, and Swae lee. Recently, in 2019, he posted his first single, “Don’t Trip,” which has been on the rise for popularity in all music streaming services. The new single has already been appraised by critics, gleaming hope for his upcoming project many TDE fans.

Prominent songs: Don’t trip, Love, and Wat’s wrong

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Source:XXL Magazine

Gesaffelstein
The French DJ was already producing with major artists such as Kanye West, A$AP Rocky, Daft Punk from 2013; however, the public did not know him as he worked behind the spotlight of these artists. The recent album, “My Dear Melancholy,” by The Weekend solely features Gesaffelstein, gaining attention from the public. Following his feature, he releases a new single in collaboration with The Weekend, topping the charts. Unlike other EDM and techno artists, he carries a dark and threatening yet enchanting style of music. Finding himself in the public more than usual, many are keeping an eye on his punk-rock EDM music.

Prominent Songs: Lost in the Fire (feat. Weekend), Pursuit, Viol

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Source: BBC

XXX
The South Korean Hip-hop duo XXX-rapper Kim Ximya and producer FRNK-is an outlier in any Hip-hop scene. Rather than gaining popularity from Korea, they first caught the eye of the international community. In 2017, they were the first Koreans to feature in Maison Kitsune Fashion Show playlist for its after work exhibitions. Despite their relative silence with only two album releases, XXX is considered as one of the most subversive hip-hop groups. Working with frenetic electro beats and dark and vitriolic style, the duo continues to be on the rise while being the outlier in the music industry.

Prominent songs: Flight Attendant, Sujak, Dior Homme, and Ooh-Ahh

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Source: The Korea Herald

Aries
Starting from a home-made youtube channel that remixes popular songs, Aries only has 8 songs released, yet most of the songs were able to rack up 1 million streams on Spotify. Merging late-stage emo and modern hip-hop, his music delivers a wide range of emotion such as rage and sadness in a flip of a dime. There’s not a lot of information about Aries, yet his music is a paradigm of the current trend in rap music-emo. However, unlike Lil peep and other emo-artists, his songs feature some light moments, establishing a diverse spectrum of his style.

Prominent Songs: Carousel, Racecar, Sayonara

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Source: Youtube

Masego
Though an underground musician, Masego continues to establish a strong fan base, transforming avid, hardcore hip-hop fans into fans of jazz and soul. With his hit song, “Tadow,” Masego represents the younger generation of jazz hip-hop (as jazz was one of the most used genres in hip-hop beats by many hip hop legends). Collaborating with few R&B and unique artists such as TDE’s SiR, Masego’s style soothes out every R&B song.. Employing modern DJ sets and his iconic saxophone, his music has the elements and formula to become one of the most funk-styled artists such as Outkast.

Prominent Songs: Navajo, Pink Polo, and Tadow

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Source:Vibes

Ella Mai
With her first debut album, “Ella Mai,” two of her songs were nominated for Grammys; moreover, her song, “Boo’d up,” was considered as a ‘breakthrough hit’ by charting in the Billboards. Although Ella Mai may be considered as a typical now-days R&B singer, she is able to have the perception of 90’s heartthrob emotions with break-up anthems, soulful ballads. In other words, she was an affinity for classic R&B artists. The already bright start of her debut album illustrates the bright future of her career, hyping many R&B fans.

Prominent songs: Trip, Boo’d Up, Whatchamacallit, Everything

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Source: Billboard

Blueface
Blueface has stirred almost all hip hop community debating about his style and controversy. Coming from the Crip gang, the Los Angeles Bluface represents the younger generation of gangster rap with the mix of trap and trendy beats. The carelessness and young energy engendered by the rapper attracted many younger followers to his fanbase. Most of his beats conform to the trend; however, his offbeat flow is what catches Internet’s attention, polarizing many rappers and fans. Consequently, the stirred controversy left the young rapper in the spotlight, getting co-signs by Drake, Lil Uzi Vert, and other artists (even Kendrick Lamar took Twitter to acknowledge his young presence).

Prominent Songs: Thotiana, Bleed it, and Studio

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Source: Youtube

Colde
Appearing as the third Korean artist in the Colors Studio-an aesthetic music platform channel in Youtube-the R&B singer Colde is on the rise in the Hip-hop scene. Originally, Colde was in the OFFONOFF hip-hop duo; however, he currently came off as an independent artist, fully revealing his talents. Having a strong connection with mainstream artists such as Dean, Crush, and Punchnello, Colde continues to dominate the Korean music charts. Similar to Dean and DPR Live who both performed in the Colors Studio, Colde continues to build an international fanbase.

Prominent Songs: Your Dog Loves You, Poem, String

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Source: Pinterest

Reason
As the newest member of the indie label TDE (along with Zacari), the Compton native Reason is one of the most anticipated rapper this year. His debut album, “There You Have It,” fully divulges his true rhyming skills, accounting his life story of how his come-up from Compton. Similar to major artists in TDE such as Jay Rock and Kendrick Lamar, Reason excels in telling his success story and the struggles of his neighborhood.

Prominent songs: Better Dayz, Situations, and There You Have it

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Source: Rolling Out

2018 has already been a bright year for avid hip-hop and R&B fans. Rising artists topping Billboard hits with singles, not to mention old artists making a come back to the music industry. There are a handful of others that deserve this title and achieved more last year (such as all the members in 88rising Entertainment) yet these artists seem to hold the most amount of potential. All of them holds the prospect of being able to expand the limits of music.

Featured Image Source: Complex

Mark Park (’20)

Doubt in Kanye West’s Redemption

The Sound is a column on all things music written by Charles Park (’20) and Mark Park (’20). -Ed.

Whether or not if you’ve been following the news or music, most people know that Kanye West is one of the most controversial entertainment figures today. The past years have been a rough road for his fans, shocking them from his advocacy for Trump, from problematic tweets, and from the defense of problematic artists. Despite his sincere and apologetic reflection addressed in his latest album, “ye,” and the address of his unstable mental health, all is not forgiven. He still faces criticism from the majority, finding himself as the most polarizing artist last year.

From the absurd comments such as “Slavery is a choice,” and “George Bush doesn’t care about Black people,” Kanye lost everything: he jeopardized his marriage with Kim Kardashian,  lost one of his closest friend, Don C, and, most importantly, disheartened all of his fans. In an interview with 107.5 WGCI Chicago, Kanye West breaks down into tears on his so-called “downfall” and struggles with his mental health issues. He wholeheartedly apologizes to everyone for his comments, insinuating that his struggles with mental illness drove him to this problematic state. This became a tearful moment for many, prompting people to assume that this was the turning point: a redemption for Kanye West.

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Source: DJ Booth

West started his redemption in the later half of 2018. His latest album, “ye,” truly reveals his raw emotions and insecurities in this whole tumult. Unveiling the rationales of his questionable beliefs-his unstable mental health-Kanye tries his best to reach out to those who were damaged from his comments. Kim Kardashian also tried to control the damage by referring his tweets as a form of “therapy” for his mental illness-schizophrenia. As an ultimate apology, he tweets, “My eyes are now wide open and now realize I’ve been used to spread messages I don’t believe in. I am distancing myself from politics and completely focusing on being creative !!!” The sole belief of Kanye distancing himself from Trump and political opinion sounds ridiculous; however, it did sound plausible as he was working on his new album. This promise still satisfied what everyone wanted: enjoying his music without any hatred against his words. So, fans started to hope that the “old Kanye” would return in 2019, redeeming himself as one of the legendary rap-stars in the 2000s.

Unfortunately, his promise broke this year, unable to contain that “dragon energy” he kept during his album workshop. In January, West posted his first tweet: “One of my favorite of many things about what the Trump hat represents to me is that people can’t tell me what to do because I’m black.” This, again, devastated his fans, failing all anticipation that everyone has hoped from his real self. Kanye, blind to the world that Trump envisions, continued to ignore the voices from the community that he once supported.

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Source: Tone Deaf

The only thing that we could really hope for is West to redeem himself in 2019 as there are plenty of opportunities. For instance, the new album, “Yandhi” is a sequel to his past albums, suggesting he maybe could go back to his past self. Furthermore, he plans to have “Sunday Services,” wherein he hosts religiously themed concerts by adding gospel vibes to his songs. Although this news shines no definite light on his comeback efforts, these suggest positive things that we could hope for.

Throughout his whole career, Kanye always was put in the spotlight with either quality music or unexpected behaviors. So, the ultimate question is whether we separate the artist from his or her work. Personally, I do enjoy listening to some songs produced by controversial artists as my playlist are filled with them such as XXXTentacion, Kanye West, Famous Dex, Chris Brown, and more; however, it is a guilty pleasure. I do acknowledge the wrong in supporting these controversial artists. Others outright dismiss their music, condemn them in social media, and more. It’s a difficult question to be had.

Almost everyone has a song or two by Kanye West, Chris Brown, Dr.Dre, or even David Bowie in their playlist. So here is a slightly different perspective. Perhaps, actions that we take for our ethical concerns are not the best for us. Rather, the incomplete rectitude and guilty enjoyment to their music help us better understand the complicated world we live in and lets us become more self-aware. Ultimately, whether we like it or not, these artists will always pop up in the “recommended” lists for our playlists, and it is up to us on how we take responsibility. A song or two from these artists in our playlists would not change their whole career, but we should still condemn these artists for their outrageous behaviors but while giving them a second chance at the same time. 

– Mark Park ‘20

Featured Image: USA Today

Top 10 Albums of 2018

The Sound is a column on all things music written by Charles Park (’20) and Mark Park (’20). -Ed.

2018 was another great year for music. From the sweet, bouncy beats on Ariana Grande’s Sweetener to the introspective, ambitious Brockhampton project Iridescence, this year marked a turning point in genre-fusion and artist collaborations. Just a few observations before I get into the albums:

  • “Trap” drums are permeating other genres. A drum kit that was originally exclusive to contemporary hip-hop sounds like those of XXXTentacion or Lil Uzi Vert are now commonplace in the work of Khalid’s Better or Ariana Grande’s No Tears Left to Cry.
  • Artists’ personal lives and political stances have had a significant impact on the way people listen to their music. Kanye’s controversial moves, 6ix9ine’s imprisonment, Mac Miller’s death – so much discussion in the music world has been spurred by the circumstances of artists’ lives outside the studio, prompting people to rethink the age-old question: can an artist be separated from the art?
  • Fans are more accepting of experimental projects. I doubt that hip-hop fans, even just a few years ago, would have been accepting of albums like Kids See Ghosts and Iridescence. Now, these artists are praised for their genre-bending and production quirks.
  • The Soundcloud scene has grown at an unprecedented rate. You know that feeling when you find an artist who’s already racked up millions of plays, but you’ve never heard of them before? That’s the Soundcloud effect: when artists can get insanely popular in a matter of days, because of the viral nature of Soundcloud likes and reposts.
  • Anticipation of new projects has reached a fever pitch. This may be because most of the internet has grown up with the popular artists of today; Reddit, Facebook, and Twitter are full of fans overanalyzing tweets they think are alluding to a new release, or trying to figure out if the background music in an artist’s Instagram story is an unreleased song. I thought I was going insane waiting for the new Giriboy album.

And now to my picks of 2018.

  1. Crush – Wonderlost

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I didn’t have too many expectations going into this, mostly because I hadn’t been keeping up with how much more sophisticated and unique his production and sound had gotten over the years. So I was pleasantly surprised to hear such a refreshing, well-executed take on a Korean R&B and pop sound, not to mention the extremely clever wordplay and lyricism in some of his songs.

Favorite track(s) – Cereal, Close Your Eyes, RYO

  1. Khalid – Suncity

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After Khalid’s impressive debut album from 2017, American Teen, I wasn’t surprised that Suncity was one of my favorite projects of the year. Sure, it may have been shorter and less ambitious, but I think it allowed Khalid to be more focused and better blend the album’s holistic meaning and timbre. Case in point: the outro to Motion includes a snippet of Better, with the chorus “nothing feels better than this” being repeated with a slightly-vocoded, pitched down, and slowed down inflection.

Favorite track(s) – Better

  1. Balming Tiger – ‘虎媄304’

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Korean experimental hip hop collective Balming Tiger blew up this year with singles like ONCEAGAIN, CHEF LEE, and I’M SICK, taking the underground Soundcloud scene of Korea by storm. The resulting project of their collaboration was a complete 180 from the music theory and composition norms that had ingrained themselves in Korean producers; Balming Tiger’s producers cite experimental, electronic artists like Flying Lotus as their inspiration. Besides the production, Balming Tiger’s sound was defined by rapper Byung Un’s well crafted lyricism: “but do you remember? 우리 회사?
”

Favorite track(s) – CHEF LEE, ONCEAGAIN

  1. JPEGMAFIA – Veteran

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Continuing with another experimental hip hop project, Veteran showed me the potential and prowess of rapper and producer Peggy. He uses samples and absurd, mind-bending sound effects that somehow stay accessible to the average hip hop fan. The fact that Peggy produced and mixed the entire album by himself shows the sheer talent that went into creating this project.

Favorite track(s) – 1539 N. Calvert, Thug Tears, Baby I’m Bleeding

  1. Ariana Grande – Sweetener

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Ariana already has an impressive discography, but Sweetener was probably the first project from her that I genuinely enjoyed from start to finish. Although I did find Pharrell’s production to be a little over-the-top sometimes, as many did, I felt that the project was a departure from her usual pop-oriented sounds and was a step towards Ariana’s own artistic vision.

“I don’t know about the importance or significance the album holds to Ariana Grande’s career as a whole, but I do believe that the album represents an important step in maturity and growth for Grande. From her lyrics to the unique sound that she has come to embrace, the album is an accumulation of all the lessons she learned throughout her career as one of this century’s most renowned musicians.” – Andrew Hong (11)

Favorite track(s) – No Tears Left to Cry, God is a Woman

  1. BROCKHAMPTON – Iridescence

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I started following self-proclaimed boyband and hip-hop collective BROCKHAMPTON at the end of last year, around the time their third SATURATION album was released. I loved the explosive synergy of the group’s members – Kevin, Matt, Joba, Ameer, Bearface – and was excited to hear what was next for the group as they reached mainstream popularity this year. The result was an album that I initially didn’t care much for, but grew to love. Even with a more mainstream audience, the group kept its unique and jarring production quirks and made its most ambitious, yet honest, project to date.

Favorite track(s) – NEW ORLEANS, WEIGHT, SAN MARCOS

  1. Mac Miller – Swimming

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Mac Miller’s death left me particularly devastated because of the message of Swimming. The lyrics on the first track, Come Back to Earth,

“In my own way, this feel like living
Some alternate reality
And I was drowning, but now I’m swimming
Through stressful waters to relief”,

Made me think that Mac had overcome his substance abuse and mental issues and had finally moved on. It was a message that I’d taken to heart, which made his death even more soul-shattering. What he left behind, though, is probably my favorite project from Mac of all time, beating my previous favorite The Divine Feminine. The lyrics flow well and are meaningful (as they always have been) and the use of more acoustic instruments like bass guitar adds a nice R&B touch to the sound of the album.

Favorite track(s) – Come Back to Earth, Hurt Feelings, What’s the Use?

  1. Kids See Ghosts – Kids See Ghosts

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Kids See Ghosts was my favorite album of the summer. I was never a big fan of Kid Cudi, so it came as a surprise to me how enjoyable this album was for me. It’s definitely not the magnum opus that many in the hip-hop community claim it to be, but it’s certainly Kanye’s most well-produced and focused projects as of recently, beating his other 2018 project ye by a mile. The production is futuristic (it reminded me of something Vince Staples would do) and the project never loses its energy for its short runtime.

Favorite track(s) – Reborn, Feel the Love, Freee

  1. Giriboy – Science Fiction Music

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What’s always impressed me about Korean artist Giriboy is his versatility. When you listen to his older works, like 2015’s Take Care of You or 2016’s Sooljalee, you would never expect him to undergo the transformation that he did. Starting from his EP earlier in the year, hightechnology, Giriboy’s production became futuristic, forward-thinking, and incredibly ambitious, more so than many of his contemporaries, even within his own record label Just Music. The resulting project is an album I’ll probably never get bored of, for its lyrics, production value, and just how fun it is.

Favorite track(s) – I4P.kr, Keyboard, hooksong

  1. Denzel Curry – TA13OO

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Denzel Curry reached virality a few years ago with his angry trap song ULTIMATE. The fact that it was produced by RonnyJ, who’s responsible for much of Lil Pump’s discography, should give you an idea of what kind of song it was: a mindless, repetitive workout beat, and not much more. To shift this attitude, Denzel came out with Ta13OO, a masterpiece which convinced me and many others that trap wasn’t just a phase of hip-hop and that it would lend itself to become one of the most defining subgenres of the decade. The album structure in itself – having three separate sections that each have a layer of darkness and complexity to them – is a long-needed change from the compilation-based albums that artists like Migos have been pumping out. In totality, the introspective lyrics and production of TA13OO make it my pick for album of the year.

Favorite track(s) – TA13OO, Black Balloons, Black Metal Terrorist

Honorable mentions: warrenisyellow – ALIEN, Travis Scott – ASTROWORLD, Various Artists – Black Panther the Album, Kanye West – ye, Aminé – ONEPOINTFIVE, Kamaal Williams – The Return, Sam Kim – Sun and Moon, Lauv – I met you when I was 18, Cuco – Chiquito, Vince Staples – FM!

Biggest letdowns of 2018: Drake – Scorpion, Juice WRLD – Goodbye & Good Riddance, Nas – NASIR, Joji – BALLADS 1, Kamasi Washington – Heaven and Earth, Rich Brian – AMEN

Featured image: Pitchfork

Let’s Talk About Kanye

The Sound is a column on all things music written by Charles Park (’20) and Mark Park (’20). -Ed.

If you’ve been following news on politics or music this year, you know about the tumult Chicago rapper Kanye West has created for himself: for calling for the abolishing of the 13th Amendment, for claiming that slavery was a choice, and for flaunting a MAGA hat all over social media.

Less than a month before his album ye dropped this June, Kanye famously said at TMZ: “When you hear about slavery for 400 years… For 400 years? That sounds like a choice.” TMZ employee Van Lathan was one of the first to confront him, telling him that his luxurious life as an artist has alienated him from the problems that “common black folk” go through in their lives: the residual discrimination that has manifested as an after effect of the aforementioned 400 years of slavery. Kanye has often been cited as the symbol for “blackness” (as Vox put it) in American pop culture.

His first three albums, nicknamed the Higher Education trilogy: The College Dropout, Late Registration, and Graduation, are reflective of his self-awareness and reverence for his roots – with his mother, with Chicago, and with his career as a producer and rapper. He admittedly didn’t have the in-the-pocket flow and gruff voice of many rappers at the time, which is why it took so long for him to convince Jay-Z to give him at a shot at rapping, a stray from his usual gig as a producer. His real draw was, therefore, not his voice, but his introspective and humble lyrics.

So what makes people accuse him now of losing that humility? Did the fame truly get to him? Did marrying into the Kardashian family compromise his values?

I don’t think that Kanye’s remarks on Trump and on slavery are anything new. To me, Kanye saying anything controversial means “oh… he’s probably dropping an album soon”. Even in the past few years, he had a feud with Taylor Swift and opened up about his $53 million debt just before releasing his 2016 album The Life of Pablo; most iconically, he said on national television “George Bush doesn’t care about black people” a week after dropping the second album to the education trilogy, Late Registration.

As far as most can tell, these recent controversies simply started as another attempt to promote his work that ended up becoming blown out of proportion because of the topical nature of the subject matter he chose to delve into: Trump and racism. His appearances on shows like Jimmy Kimmel are embarrassingly revealing of his lack of fleshed-out, logical contentions about the people – and ideas – he’s promoting, and Trump’s open endorsement of West just seems like a PR move to pretend like the president is actually caught up on American and African American pop culture – “thank you Kanye, very cool!”

What’s equally upsetting is the number of people that are getting worked up about Kanye’s recent moves. Even if they can’t see through the fact that it’s just a promotional campaign for an album that went too far, it’s plain to see that he has good intentions. For the record, Kanye has never stated that he agrees with everything Trump says: he said that he doesn’t fully agree with anyone, which is what makes everyone unique. Instead, he stands behind what the MAGA slogan represents: literally speaking, a great America.

As a fan of his music and art, I hope that Kanye would actually take the time to learn more about how his own country functions, and to use that knowledge to inspire his fans to take action for themselves. So many rappers have made efforts to improve their hometown and do actual good for the community, a recent example being rapper 21 Savage making a back to school drive for underprivileged children in Atlanta. Kanye’s bars on ye showed that a large part of him is still the soft, insecure Kanye he was during his formative years as a rapper in the early 2000s: he just has to harness that energy for actually politically informed discourse, rather than his usual sensationalized tirade.

– Charles Park (’20)

Featured Image by author

Hip-hop: the Safe Haven for Domestic Violence

As much as we love rap, controversy always trailed rap’s trend. For more than a decade, Hip-hop has served as a political medium for representation of their community, proving to the world the power of free speech. However, trending artists brought domestic abuse and physical assault as a norm in the Rap Scene, aggravating rap’s image.

The Sound is a column on all things music written by Charles Park (’20) and Mark Park (’20). -Ed.

As much as we love rap, Hip-hop has perpetually related to violence. Hip-hop is starting to become a major division in the music industry; it has expanded the scope of influence. The genre was not only a culture enjoyed by the black communities, but it also became a part of a global trend. At least 40% of the songs are categorized as Hip-hop in the Billboard charts; Hip-hop has become the most popular genres in all streaming services.

Assaults and domestic violence in Hip-hop started in the 1990’s with Dr.Dre’s assaults on Dee Barnes. The allegation has put Dr.Dre in the spotlight, damaging his rising career. From the Rolling Stones interview in 1991, he was notoriously unapologetic to Barnes, saying “I just did it, you know. Ain’t nothing you can do now by talking about it. Besides, it ain’t no big thing, I just threw her through a door.” From the recent Netflix documentary, “The Defiant Ones” and other movies based on Dr. Dre, they have censored his assault of Dee Barnes which the allegations resurfaced again. Later on, Barnes accepted Dr. Dre’s apology which was directed after “The Defiant Ones”. There were only a few rappers who were accused of domestic assaults such as Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, and more in the past.

 

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Rapper Kodak Black (Source: Youtube)

Throughout the recent years, trending rappers always have faced charges for their violent behavior, yet, their controversy never stopped their rise. For instance, Rapper Kodak Black was convicted of a first-degree sexual assault charge on a teenage girl. While it brought harsh criticisms from the community, his songs from Spotify and other streaming services still gained popularity during that time. Similarly, rapper Famous Dex was caught on camera assaulting his girlfriend. Although XXL Magazine snubbed him from the Freshman list, he already gained 1 million streams from Spotify in a week from his debut album “Dex Meets Dexter.” As Hip-hop continues to grow and influence other trending genres, this violent pattern of behavior has entered into designers too- more specifically streetwear. Designer A$AP Bari faced domestic abuse controversy when he posted himself hitting his girlfriend on social media. Bari faced many criticisms from other colleagues, including his own teammates, A$AP Rocky. Even though his career was damaged, his fashion brand, Vlone, is still one of the most popular brands in streetwear. It seems as if the rap community views the artist and his or her songs differently, disregarding the artist’s action when evaluating their music.

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XXXTENTACION Donating to Charity (Source: The Blast)

There is still positivity that flows in Hip-hop as the genre gives room for redemption. One of the most popular rappers was the South Florida rapper, XXXTentacion (Rest In Peace Jahseh Onfroy). He was faced with seven felony charges including kicking his pregnant girlfriend while he was gaining massive popularity from the free music streaming base, Soundcloud. In early 2017, XXXTentacion was held for 8 more charges for witness tampering. All throughout 2017 and 2018, XXXTentacion has stirred controversy of constant assaults of his fans, yet, his music always charted in several streaming services. However, in late 2017, XXXTentacion started to redeem himself by starting donations challenges for orphanages and spreading positivity through his new music. His album “17” and “?” deals with depression from his actions, bringing critical acclaims of his messages and how it has saved many lives. Onfroy continued to redeem themselves, helping people in need, until his tragic end. Still, more than a handful of people protest against his music due to his past events. Therefore, it brings to the question: Should people be given second chances?

Hip-hop was always under the spotlight for its perpetual relationship with domestic violence and physical assault. The new generation of rappers is constantly troubled with allegations for sexual assault and physical harm as they create music that focuses on themselves rather than the struggles of black communities. Such controversial cases should taint their career, yet it only seems to boost their profits and confidence.

As much as I love Hip-hop, I do really see a problematic pattern within the community. Even though I know their controversial past behaviors, I still listen to these rappers such as Famous Dex, Kodak Black, or XXXTentacion. Honestly, Hip-hop is a controversial genre despite its great significance in today’s society. But if we were to only listen to those who uphold the behaviors we support (not only Hip-hop), half of our playlists should be deleted.  I’m not saying we should support these controversial behaviors, but I wanted to convey that it’s a difficult choice to make on how we judge the artists. We just have to hope for the best that these artists on our playlists do the right thing.

Featured Image: The Daily Beast

-Mark Park (’20)

The Rebirth of Neo-Soul

Neo-soul has been on the rise again after its decline in the last decade. With the reappearance of this genre in many mainstream songs, it is important to know the current trend of neo-soul and its emerging artists.

The Sound is a column on all things music written by Charles Park (’20) and Mark Park (’20). -Ed.

Neo-soul originated in the late 1980’s as few artists started to deviate away from contemporary R&B by incorporating other genres of music. Neo-soul (neo meaning new) is an alternative version of soul, blending in more genres such as R&B, Hip-hop, and Jazz. It has always been difficult to differentiate Neo-soul and alternative R&B as they consist of similar elements of music. Neo-Soul is derived from 1970’s style of Hip-hop with Soul R&B while contemporary R&B originates from more pop funk genres. However, in current music industry, both genres are treated the same as there is no clear line of definition that separates the two genres.

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Lauryn Hill (Source:Twitter)

As neo-soul started to gain popularity in the underground music, prominent artists such as Prince, Joi, and Maxwell started the ‘neo-soul’ movement. In the 1990s, popular artists, such as D’Angelo, Erykah Badu, and Lauryn Hill integrated neo-soul into other genres. Throughout the 2000s, neo-soul reached its apex as these artists brought neo-soul into the light of mainstream music; soon, the genre established its identity in the music industry. However, the genre quickly died out due to its rise of Southern Hip-hop. Throughout the last decade, only a few neo-soul artists entered the mainstream industry such as John Legend, Frank Ocean, and Bilal. Its popularity declined in the mainstream music until 2017 when a few artists started to categorize their music as ‘neo-soul’ again.

 

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Source:Chicago Reader

 

It all started with Frank Ocean, releasing his sophomore album, Blond. Although he released his first album, Channel Orange, in 2012, gaining high appraisals, Channel Orange was considered contemporary R&B. On the other hand, Blond was a neo-soul album, influenced from the works of Erykah Badu and D’angelo. Ocean was able to create a more unique style of neo-soul, emphasizing the story and lyrics-which is what soul is about. Songs such as ‘Nike’ and ‘Nights’ have been able to explore the more diverse genre of music with auto-tunes and eclectic beats, expanding the types of Neo-soul.

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Source:Genius

Unlike Ocean’s style, Daniel Caesar’s music consists of simple guitar and gospel beats. The Toronto-based Soul singer is on the rise as he delivers the traditional vibe of neo-soul. With the recent release of his album, Freudian, he instantly became one of the most popular R&B/Soul artists. The full-length album was able to deliver the contemporary version of Gospel songs as their similar tempos and lyrical themes gave the audience a new feeling. Although the album is more shifted towards contemporary R&B, the integration of vocal elements and gospel music can be identified as a new type of soul music.

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Many R&B artists started to consider their work as neo-soul because the genre was able to integrate other types of music. One significant genre that has been a catalyst to neo-soul’s popularity is Hip-hop. Throughout the evolution of neo-soul, it is apparent that the relationship between neo-soul and hip-hop has been firmly established with artists such as D’Angelo and Lauryn Hill. In the recent release of Tyler the Creator’s fourth studio album, Flower Boy, it introduced the mainstream audience into a more alternative version of R&B and neo-soul. Featuring new soul and R&B artists, Tyler the Creator utilized a diverse genre of beats such as funk, jazz fusion, and electric blues. From its remarkable composition of the music, it is important to recognize some of featuring artists as they were the ones who led the trends of neo-soul.

Known as an indie pop and neo-soul artist, Rex Orange County has been gaining popularity from his vibrant and intricate beats. Having released only two albums, Rex Orange County has explored the genres of fusion jazz, *lo-fi, *indie-pop, and funk, showing the flexibility of his style into different genres. Over the past two years, he has shown how diverse neo-soul can be in the styles of music that he has created.

Another artist that has brought neo-soul to the mainstream genre is Kali Uchis. Her soothing voice from Tyler’s song, ‘See You Again’ has gained her popularity. Currently, she has only released one song, featuring Tyler the Creator, which has been highly appraised of its mixture in jazz and electric funk while it was able to blend well with Tyler’s hard rap.

A final artist that has brought neo-soul to the mainstream genre is Steve Lacy. From his demo EP, made mostly from his iPhone, Lacy has created higher expectations for his upcoming album with his rap group, The Internet. His first project shows the audience the classic Southern California funk and soul. As a rising artist, Lacy brought attention to a more funk-styled soul with electric lo-fi* pop, expanding the fan base for neo-soul and indie* pop.

Neo-soul has been a vaguely defined genre throughout the music industry due to its ephemeral popularity in the mainstream industry.  But as more artists have been popularizing this genre, neo-soul can be integrated into any types of music. There are more artists that have continued the legacy of neo-soul other than from this list (such as Solange, Aloe Blac, Emlei Sande), but they have already been famed for their unique styles. As these emerging artists expand the diversity of this genre, make sure to listen to their songs before they hit the charts.

*Lo-fi: A sub-genre of music that is recorded with the lower quality compared to urban mainstream standards. Lo-Fi, meaning “low-fidelity”, highlights the imperfection of the artist’s quality, having a more artistic effect (such as Do-It-Yourself trends).

Ex: Beck, Pavement, XXXTentacion

*Indie-pop: A music genre that combines guitar pop with the style of mainstream pop music.  

Ex: Lana Del-Ray, The xx, Lorde

Featured Image Source: Kubashi

-Mark Park (’20)

Introduction to THE SOUND

Let’s admit it: music isn’t what it used to be.

Your old Spotify playlist is stale, the “Discover Weekly” playlist only recommends trashy pop songs, and you’re just too busy to spend a few hours on Youtube digging through old records. We’ve all been there.

That’s why we created The Sound. We cater not just to giving you a taste of new music, but also expanding your realm of audio entertainment.

Are you bored of listening to music through your phone? Do you want a new way to enjoy your favorite albums? Well, maybe you should consider starting a vinyl collection. But where do you even begin? Do you opt for the $50 Crosley players on Amazon? Or do you get a vintage one from the 70s? Where do you even begin to look for the records themselves?

Are you tired of the mediocre sound quality of your Apple earpods? Maybe you’re looking to invest, but there are so many options, and so many AP tests to study for. What’s the difference between earphones and In-Ear Monitors (IEMs)? Why does it matter how many drivers there are in one ear? And what’s the difference between passive and active noise cancellation?

Do you think you can do better than all your favorite artists? You should look into starting your own music career. Are you inspired by the “Bedroom Pop” playlist on Spotify, and how to make an aesthetic music video in the likes of Clairo or Mac Demarco? Where do you even start? How should you produce your own song? How will you gain a following on Soundcloud?

The beauty of music is that there are more questions than answers. It’s an endless, abstract, arbitrary plane of vibrations and frequencies that have been put together as a construct and medium of entertainment. And thus, it should be made clear that The Sound’s purpose is to ask you more questions than we answer. Ultimately, music is an incredibly personal, intimate experience; no one can tell you what kind of music to enjoy. We hope that with each new article, you’re at least one step closer to finding The Sound.

– Charles Park (’20)

Featured Image by Crescentia Jung (’19)

2018 Grammy Awards: Review

The Sound is a column on all things music written by Charles Park (’20) and Mark Park (’20). -Ed.

Once again, the Grammys turned a deaf-ear, ending the night with a disappointment. Despite these rising trends of alternative genres such as Hip-hop and Indie rock, Grammys never recognized their presence in their awards. It had its highlighting moments, but it just couldn’t amend the hole of Hip-hop. 

So, let’s face it, nowadays, the Grammys are simply irrelevant.

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Source: New York Times

From the guest appearance of Hillary Clinton to the Time’s up and #MeToo political movements (sexual harassment awareness), Grammy’s desperate attempts to follow the trend could be seen in the Red Carpet. Yet the Grammys’ nominations and performance line ups do not reflect the message . In the last six years of Grammys, out of 899 nominees, only nine percent were women. This year, Lorde’s Melodrama was the only female album nominee for Album of the Year. The Grammys failed to focus on the message, finishing the night with no recollection of the speeches and white pins. Furthermore, none of the winners of the Grammy officially recognized the Time’s up pins from the movement nor gave a shout out.

Moving away from the movements, let’s talk about the awards…

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Source:India.com

Again, all the big awards went to the wrong person (sorry, Bruno). Take a look at the Record of the Year category, “24K Magic” beat Kendrick’s “Humble” and JAY-Z’s “Story of O.J.” Unlike Bruno’s light-hearted fun, Kendrick and JAY-Z have produced a , creating meaningful impacts to the whole society. We can solely see Grammy’s utter contempt for Hip-hop as a whole. Furthermore, in the Best Album category,  it was down to Kendrick and Tyler the Creator. But, just like last year, Kendrick lost to a pop album, Bruno’s 24K Magic.  Now, Kendrick’s album is on the third losing streak, losing to Macklemore, Taylor Swift, and now, Bruno Mars. Hip-hop has been relevant and on the trend for several years, and still only one hip-hop album (OutKast’s Speakerboxxx/The Love Below) has won album of the year. Yet, what raged the internet most was the Best New Artists category. SZA, a newly rising R&B soul singer, lost to Alessia Cara, who did not post any new albums this year. SZA was able to put out one of the best albums in 2017, ranking in top 10 for the Billboard’s top album list. On the other hand, Alessia only featured in couple hit songs and never produced an album. This put JAY-Z and SZA in a complete loss with no Grammy awards even though they were the most nominated artists this year.

Performances were great, but not the best…

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Source:Grammys.com

There were performances that were powerful and meaningful as Kendrick’s such as Kesha’s performance, ‘Praying’. She was able to convey a deep performance, acknowledging to the #MeToo movement. There was also Logic’s 1-800-273-8255, doing an amazing speech, tackling suicide and depression issues. But the stars of the performance were Kendrick and Dave Chappelle. Along with Dave Chappelle short joke, “I just want to remind the audience that the only thing more frightening than watching a black man be honest in America is being an honest black man in America,” Kendrick opened a fiery performance with U2. However, the performances were smooth until U2 took the stage by themselves later on. Sure, we do love U2 and their old albums. But, it’s time to let go. They are irrelevant.

Grammys was once the most prestigious music award in the world. Now, it’s a complete embarrassment. Their desperate efforts to keep up with the trends were disorganized, ending the show with no memory of the movements. Their awards were all rigid and against Hip-hop. Some of their performance lineups were completely irrelevant to the awards and this year’s theme.

Let’s really face it, Grammys are out of trend. 

Top 10 Albums of 2017

Every year, music accelerates itself, and 2017 has been the year for both new artists and major artists. Here are my best picks for the best albums in 2017.

The Sound is a column on all things music written by Charles Park (’20) and Mark Park (’20). -Ed.

10. The Thrill of it All – Sam Smith

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Image Source: iTunes

The four-time Grammy awarded artist, Sam Smith comes back with his new album, The Thrill of it all. Again, Smith creates another masterpiece of R&B/pop. It still was able to create a new soul, making it a perfect song for love. His brand of sadness in love marks itself again which can be exhausting but his songs still provoke sentimentality with his tender voice and softly produced beats.

Recommended Tracks: “Too Good at Goodbyes”, “Pray”, “The Thrill of it All”

9. Ctrl – SZA

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Image Source: iTunes

The critically acclaimed album, Ctrl, has been compared to many famed R&B artists such as Frank Ocean, The Weeknd, and more. However, SZA’s album directly dives into her own life with stark episodes in each of her songs, all connecting to her appreciation of the solidarity in her life as she explains many experiences with her lovers, good and bad.

Recommended Tracks: “Love Galore”, “Doves in the Wind”, “Drew Berrymore”

8. Mura Masa – Mura Masa

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Image Source: Wikipedia

Mura Masa, a rising dance-pop artist, creates a light yet digestible dance-pop album with its ear-musing beats and some famed artists for features. The album, Mura Masa, depicts his relationship of love while connecting all his songs to his city, London. Despite its simplistic construction of the album, the album still stands as one of the relaxing and easy dance-pop albums in 2017.

Recommended Tracks: “Love$ick”, “What if I go”, “Firefly”

7. 4:44 – Jay Z

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Image Source: Wikipedia

Jay-Z’s thirteenth solo album, 4:44, dazzles through the deconstruction of Jay-Z’s world, basing his thoughts on the album, Lemonade from his wife Beyonce. The album was the dreamwork of Jay-Z the songs reflect how the world goes around while leaving a legacy of all his past work. Every angle that he explores has been referenced through all his albums, but 4:44 recreates a refreshing view and discloses all his emotions and personal revelations. From its classic beats and samples to intense lyrics, Jay-Z creates a masterpiece of his end, leaving the audience with a handful of eloquent thought processes of his life to mark a legacy.

Recommended Tracks:”The Story of O.J”, “4:44”, “Family Feud”

6. The OOZ – King Krule

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Image Source: Pitchfork

The OOZ is one of the most underrated albums in mainstream culture when disregarding its high appraisals from major critics of the album. King Krule creates the album to be an alien yet perennial as this contemporary album does not fit in any time of the century. It was beyond the trend. The album is packed with 19 tracks, consisting of tender jazz, tacky R&B, hard rock, and soft hip-hop. King Krule, already prominent for his imperfections and amalgamations of multiple genres, creates a journey deep into all kinds of emotions with overwhelming beats and out of tune sounds, making the album more special.

Recommended Tracks:”Dum Surfer”, “Slush Puppy”, “Vidual”

5. Funk Wave Bounce Vol.1 – Calvin Harris

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Image Source: iTunes

Calvin Harris was able to create the perfect album for the summer vibe. Calvin Harris completely shifts direction from EDM to relaxed dance putting many fans in anticipation of the perfect chill album which Harris fulfilled. The album consists of appearances of the top artists such as Frank Ocean, Migos, Khalid, and more, making the album one of the best dance/chill album in 2017. Although the album wasn’t greater than it was anticipated from its features, Funk Wave Bounce still was the album for funky summer vibes.

Recommended Tracks: “Slide”, “Rollin”, “Feels”

4. American Teen – Khalid

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Image Source: Genius

American Teen is the debut album of a 19-year-old, dealing with daily adolescent problems of identity, love, and family. The album is packed with classic R&B tracks with its stylistic beats fit for mainstream Pop culture. With his authentic voice in R&B, Khalid may be one of the best artists to create music as for the mainstream audience. The album consists of an overall similar tone, making it easy for the audience to digest its simpleness. As the songs explore the struggles and fantasies of life, mostly derived from the millennials, American Teen can easily represent the life of an adolescent.

Recommended Tracks:”Location”, “Saved”, “Young, Dumb, and Broke”

3. Flower Boy – Tyler the Creator

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Image Source: Wikipedia

Flower Boy may be Tyler’s best album as the album strips Tyler away of his furious raps and depicts his pain in the most sincere way. With the appearance of high-end R&B and Hip-hop artists, Flower Boy is packed with ear-musing tracks while it starts to hint another side of Tyler-vulnerability underneath his aggression. While he still presents few furious raps like his past songs, most of the tracks depict Tyler’s emotions under his anger towards misconnected love and navigation of his youth. Despite all kinds of slurs from the past in his music, Flower Boy presents Tyler riddled with identity and loneliness with small innuendoes of homosexuality, a topic Tyler has always been aggressive about.

Recommended Tracks: “See you again”, “9/11, Mr.Lonely”, “Boredom”

2. Process – Sampha

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Image Source: Spotify

Critically acclaimed from mainstream publications, Sampha’s debut album, Process has been a unique masterpiece. Exploring different elements of music, Sampha offers an album packed with strange yet contemporary beats while restlessly depicting his emotional soul of his family. Unlike other soul-hitting albums, Sampha creates a vast range of his tone from nostalgic sweetness to cold and bitter sentiments. The album strips Sampha with strong depiction of his vulnerableness, creating bleak and vague definitions of his emotions.

Recommended Tracks: “(No One Knows Me) like the Piano”, “Blood on me”, “Incomplete Kisses”

1. DAMN – Kendrick Lamar

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Image Source: The Magazine

There’s no doubt that 2017 has been the year of Kendrick with his fourth studio album “DAMN”. The album easily peaked the Billboard charts and quickly achieved Double Platinum after its release. From the thought-provoking lyrics to the diverse characteristics of his beats, his songs have dominated 2017’s pop culture. The album has been placed as the best album in 2017 for many mainstream publications with high regards of the album’s complexity and storytelling.

Each year, Lamar tells a different story, and in this album, he questions the coexistence of his fame with the divinity of God, musing the audience with its vivid details and evocative scene-setting when describing each of his stories. Tracks such as “Yah” or “Pride” depict his fame changing his life with his appeasing tone and playful rhymes while tracks such as “DNA” or “Element” consists of aggressive and thought-provoking language and heavy beats. The complexity of his album could be stressed in every way from the jaw-dropping story when the tracks are played backwards to the intricate samples of classic songs.

Recommended Tracks:”Love”, “Humble”, “Element”, “DNA”

Other Notable Albums:

Big Fish Theory-Vince Staples

Divide-Ed Sheeran

Reputation-Taylor Swift

17-XXXtentacion

– Mark Park (’20)

Featured Image: Neo Pak (’19)