Quarantine Blog Days 9 – 14

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I really hope I haven’t kept you waiting.

See, I was going to write the day after my last blog. But here’s the thing. If I just tell you what I did day by day, it would be really boring. If you, like me, are working from home and practicing social distancing, recapping one day would not very noteworthy in our new quarantine reality. I’m not even sure the activities for one week are very interesting.

I have finally left my apartment. I had to run to the Giant down the street and my girlfriend couldn’t go because of conference calls. Going to the grocery store is generally terrifying now. Everyone in the store was old. People just jumped out of corners and walked around willy nilly like everything’s normal and we don’t need to have a radius. Even the seven-minute walk to the grocery store didn’t seem like it was more or less busy on the sidewalks for the middle of the day on a Thursday.

Besides a half-hour walk my girlfriend and I took on Sunday, my only escape from the apartment has been to the grocery store, which I assume has been a lot of people’s escapes. I’ve started assuming a prepper mentality. I now have four cans of Pringles. You know, the base of the food pyramid, Pringles. I’m set on snacks.

I’ve started making a lot of video calls with friends and family. The thing is only some of these calls are with people I would normally see. It took pandemic for me to start FaceTiming my friends who I haven’t talked to in months. I’m having group FaceTimes with my family and my girlfriend’s family who live in Pennsylvania, Louisiana, Michigan, and California.

For those of us who are healthy and indoors, it is the greatest time in history to be quarantined. We have supercomputers that let us video call everyone we know, play fake basketball games, watch every movie and TV show ever made, and help us do all our entire job. Yet somehow, we find the ability to be bored.

I’ll admit I’m getting stir crazy. A lot of the time, I feel like I can’t focus on anything for more than a minute at a time. I’ll put on a movie or TV show and abruptly scroll through Twitter and Instagram looking at nothing that piques my interest but I cannot stop. I’ve had to start convincing myself to be present, put my phone down and just exist in this strange, strange time in history.

I’m trying to adjust my expectations for this entire predicament. I’m not confident when this will be over, but I know it won’t be soon. This will definitely not be over by Easter, just because the timing would be fantastic. They didn’t postpone the Olympics because this will be over by mid-April. We need to be realistic. This situation fucking sucks. The scientific community is not even sure this will get better during summer. We might be socially distancing on Memorial Day weekend. But guess what?

People dying en masse can’t even be considered something that “sucks.” It’s traumatic. We need to do this. The elected officials across the country need to take the appropriate measures and force people inside. Our priority has to be people, not fucking stocks. Yeah, the market tanked. People have lost their jobs and layoffs are going to continue.

We need to make sure people are not spreading coronavirus. We need to ensure those who have lost their income can continue to pay their bills and stay healthy. We don’t need people sacrificing themselves for the stonks. Dan Patrick, a conservative talk show host, who moonlights as the Lieutenant Governor of Texas, claimed on the Tucker Carlson bow tie jamboree that the elderly should be willing to sacrifice themselves for the American way of life. I’m sure Dan here wants to hang out on the street getting coughed on so the Dow Jones Industrial average will get a 3% lift. That’s totally something rational people would do for our one true god: the stock market.

I don’t know who this abrupt rant is for, but whoever you are, start taking this seriously and act like a human being with functioning organs and a sense of empathy and treat this as an emergency. And as a human being who has experienced both the flu and a car accident, they’re really fucking shitty even if you don’t die. So stop acting like this is no big deal.

Anyway, here are some things I’ve been entertaining myself with.

What I’ve been listening to:

  • Blueface – Find The Beat (2/5) – Everyone forgot about Blueface. I saw a tweet that said his album came out last week, which no one was aware of.  I had an open mind, and until halfway through I enjoyed it, and then the schtick got old. This album isn’t even absurdly long like most rap albums. It’s just tired.
  • Yumi Zouma – Truth & Consequences (3/5)- Every song on this album sounds like it belongs on a forgettable teen indie romance. I can’t put my finger on exactly what artist this sounds like but its some kind of sped up XX – Beach House hybrid. It sounds like music that plays at Urban Outfitters all day.

We were going to need artists to capture this moment in time. Thank you to Tom Breihan at Stereogum for sharing this.

  • Sada Baby – Skuba Sada 2 (4/5) – I’m just glad this came out so I could add “Slide” to my playlists finally.
  • The Weeknd – After Hours (4/5) – I’ve been tired of the Weeknd’s schtick for a while. He isn’t letting go of it on his fourth album, but at least he’s tried some new styles with Kevin Parker and Oneohtrix Point Never. Also, “Blinding Lights” slaps.
  • J Balvin – Colores (4/5) – I’m really glad we’ve been experiencing a full-on crossover for Latin artists in the mainstream for the past few years. The English language should not be a barrier to entry for artistic commercial success in music or movies.
  • Father John Misty – Off-Key in Hamburg (5/5) – FJM put this live album out on Bandcamp with all proceeds going to the MusiCares COVID-19 relief fund. You don’t actually have to spend money to listen to the whole thing, but please consider doing so. It’s a fantastic live album and its essentially an FJM greatest hits.
  • Childish Gambino – 3.15.20 (4/5) – It’s hard to keep track of which songs I liked due to the way this album was put out. It’s a “vibes” album, which was perfectly timed for a springtime where we could go outside, but you know if you can get some natural light, same deal.
  • Young Jazz Giants – Self-Titled (5/5), Thundercat – Apocalypse (4/5) & Drunk  (4/5) – I went on a Thundercat binge because he’s got an album out in two weeks.
  • Porches – Ricky Music (2/5) –  Forgettable. I just didn’t want you to think I liked everything I listened to.

What I’ve been watching:

  • Fast and Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw – No offense to Jason Statham, but this movie should have been called Fast and Furious Presents: Hobbs. This movie is 90% about the Rock. Statham was there, but like he was really just sidekick to the Rock. I believe I’ve seen most Fast and Furious movies while doing something else, in this case, working, and I could tell you what happened even while half paying attention. Reviewing this film against the other Fast movies, it’s justly in the middle, there was enough ridiculousness, but perhaps not ridiculous enough. Also, the bad guy was Idris Elba who had super strength because he was cybernetically enhanced, but I’m going to choose to believe coronavirus gives you superstrength.
  • The Today Show (Quarantine edition) – Christina is a big fan of the Today Show. I’ve now watched it every morning. The show is getting really weird. Savannah Guthrie is now sick and doing the show from her basement. Now, this is the correct precaution because Savannah is a delight, but if she put national treasure Hoda Kotb in harm’s way, I don’t know if I could forgive her. Hoda is in the studio conducting interviews while sitting on stools six feet away from various experts. Also, Stephanie Ruhle has been giving viewers very hollow financial advice.
  • All The Way – As I’ve said, I’ve been pushing my way through one of Robert Caro’s tomes about LBJ. I watched this movie to keep up with that theme. Bryan Cranston does a great LBJ impression, but he’s a bit short. Also, there’s one scene where LBJ drives his car with Hubert Humphrey into a lake, but it turns out he has a duck-boat car because it was the 60’s.
  • Hotel Rwanda – Great, powerful movie. There’s a scene where Don Cheadle after coming across a mass grave is changing his clothes. He messes up, tries to laugh it off, and abruptly has a full-on breakdown. The guy just sells it. I thought he won the Oscar. It turned out it went to Jamie Foxx for Ray. I’ve never seen Ray, but Cheadle deserved the Oscar.
  • Frozen II – My girlfriend and I and two of our friends via FaceTime started this movie at 10pm after I ate a Reuben. I essentially napped through the whole thing. I couldn’t decipher a plot. It turns out the people who actually paid attention couldn’t find one either.
  • Little Fires Everywhere – I devoured this book over the holidays. So far, the show is pretty good. It does feel a bit like Big Little Lies because Reese Witherspoon is essentially playing the same character.
  • Brooklyn Nine-Nine – This is my guilty pleasure. Also, Andy Samburg has perfect comic timing.
  • The Simpsons – This is the TV show of my childhood. Actually, it’s my belief that this is the greatest show of all time… if you exclude anything after season 10.
  • A lot of C-SPAN. I can tell you my respect for a speech on the Senate floor has really declined this week. Did you know if you’re a senator, they’ll let you be a cry baby about anything for 10 minutes?

What I’ve been reading:

  • Still Lyndon Johnson – Since we last saw him, Lyndon Johnson has cheated on his wife, gotten reelected to House, helped FDR get elected President for a third time and bring electricity to West Texas. I never claimed he was perfect.

Quartine Blogs Days 1-8

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This is technically a music blog. Well, in reality, it’s a semi-dormant catalog of ramblings about Young Thug. But because I’ve been at home practicing social distancing,  it is now a quarantine blog. Don’t worry, I snuck some reviews in there for you at the end. Please see my depressing, yet chill quarantine playlist here.

You might say I have terrible timing.

Last Tuesday, March 10th, I woke up with a sore throat, I tried to convince myself it was allergies. I went to work and it never got better or worse. After work, I went for a run during which I felt fine, except for my throat.

Last Wednesday, I worked from home as the sore throat got worse.  Actually, everything got worse. The last time I left my apartment building was Wednesday morning to get cold medicine and continue to increase up my stockpile of food with pretzels and french onion soup. By the end of the day, I had a fever and a runny nose, and my head felt like a balloon. My condition deteriorated so much that my girlfriend decided she needed to leave her office, come home, and on the way buy a $70 dollar baby ear thermometer because CVS sold out of regular cheap ones because of the coronapanic. But I digress, she’s the best.

Now, before you get alarmed, I probably don’t have the coronavirus. I say “probably” because as you might be aware, I have no way of knowing because the United States has been woefully underprepared for this pandemic. I called the closest urgent care and told them about my symptoms. They told me that unless I had gone to China, Japan, South Korea or Iran recently or had been in contact with someone who had, I could not get tested. Of course, by that point, why should that really matter. I ride the DC Metro, which is a fucking petri dish, where on a given day all riders have the opportunity to be pushed up against another rider who might have gone to China, Japan, South Korea or Iran or knew some who had. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Of course, Wednesday was the day where shit not only hit the fan for me, but for all of us. While feeling like a human pile of garbage, I put on the only NBA game I could find between the Dallas Mavericks and Denver Nuggets after hearing that the Oklahoma City Thunder and Utah Jazz game was postponed. In the middle of the third quarter, ESPN comes back from the commercial break to announce that the entire NBA has been suspended. This is weird news to receive during an ongoing basketball game. I really wanted to see how Luka Doncic and Nikola Jokic were going to play thinking this might be their last game of the season. Are they going to play to their fullest because this is their Finals? Or are they going to phone it in because they won’t be going to the Finals?

(It’s worth pointing out what has already been pointed out countless times: I couldn’t get tested for coronavirus. However, 38 professional basketball players in Oklahoma could get tested right away, who I can prove were not in China, Iran, Japan or South Korea in the same time that I wasn’t because I have a TV. Also, Rudy Gobert is a big dummy.)

Thursday, I took a sick day because I still had dry coughs and a mild fever. I am not a napper and I did not nap. I just lied around, read and watched TV. While you may complain that I underutilized or improperly utilized my sick day, it did allow me to recover.

As the news started to flow that all sports would eventually suspend operations, I realized I was going to need to find something to put on while I was home 24/7. That’s when I ordered NBA 2K20 on Amazon, while I still had the chance. If I can’t watch basketball, I’m gonna have to make some basketball.

Friday, I continued to work from home after my office offered employees the option to work from home for the foreseeable future and, taking my cues from the experts, I went into full social distance mode. My workday breezed by, and that’s when time started unraveling. After a few days in the confines of my apartment, my mind and body stopped working as they normally do.

I have the soul of a 60-year-old man. I often fall asleep around 10 PM, if I can make it. On Friday, it was suddenly almost 1 am and I hadn’t even realized it. My girlfriend had to watch the U.S. House of Representatives vote on the coronavirus relief package (or, as she insist that I refer to here because some Hill staffer probably worked really hard on the name, the “Families First Coronavirus Response Act”), which they didn’t get around to doing until 1 O’CLOCK IN THE FUCKING MORNING. We had to wait all day for this which meant we kept C-SPAN2 on from 5 PM to 2 AM. You haven’t really had a quarantine Friday until you’ve watched two rebroadcasts of Washington Journal. (Also, at one point, we had to turn on Fox Business to see if Steve Mnuchin would talk to Lou Dobbs. While we’re all concerned with coronavirus, Louie here is talking to the founder of RealNews.com or some shit about the Steele Dossier. We played over/under with how many times Lou Dobbs has been married with the line set at 2.5. I took the under. Lou Dobbs and his wife have been happily married for nearly 40 years. Good for you, Lou.)

Over the weekend, time just continued to ooze. I would wake up around 8 am and then the next thing I know its 1 pm and then its 3 pm and then it’s 10 pm. It didn’t matter when I started or stopped doing things because nothing would change and there was nowhere to be. To summarize, my weekend activities consisted of reading, watching TV and movies, playing video games, looking at Twitter, judging people who decided to have a social life on Instagram, watching TikTok, eating, listening to music, and occasionally bathing and changing my clothes.

(To the Instagram point: Please practice social distancing. Coronavirus is not a terrorist organization. You’re not showing the virus you’re not afraid by crowding bars. You’re getting grandma sick. Also, St. Patrick’s Day is terrible. I drink beer and wear green all the time. I might just do it tonight… Oh shit, I’m participating. Disregard. But if you’re not going to socially distance because you just NEED to be around people, don’t put it on social media for us to have a historical record of you being a jackass for the Hague Social Distancing Tribunals in 2027.)

The basketball-sized gap in my life was filled when NBA 2K20 arrived on Saturday, even if it was basketball where all the players are slightly dead in the eyes. I turned on my Xbox which I hadn’t used in over six months. It turns out I am only slightly better at virtual basketball than I am at real basketball, which is only because virtual basketball has an easy mode. I lost pretty much every game I played. Just like in real life, I cannot correctly shoot a basket.

I even decided to do work over the weekend, which is not something I’m usually inclined to do. Nothing matters anymore! I can push something out of the way and then it’s less time working the next day. Weekend and weekday are essentially interchangeable by the hour! I can be productive and unproductive at the same time!

At one point, my friend Mash facetimed me and I remembered what it was like to talk to a person who isn’t my girlfriend or my family. We ended up talking for an hour. He gave me the report of what was happening across town.

To catch up on our timeline, I’ve spent the last two days working, reading and watching movies. I’ve also resumed practicing yoga because I’m going to need to start doing exercise if I’m not even going to leave my apartment for another several weeks.

I wouldn’t say I’m thriving under the circumstances, but occasionally I feel unburdened by social, time and bodily pressures. And then I need to remind myself that people out there are suffering from this disease, struggling to keep bills paid and working around the clock to save lives. In these circumstances, and in really all circumstances, I’m incredibly lucky to have a job with regular income, housing, and food. I’m also lucky to have the best roommate/girlfriend to spend this time with and somehow we haven’t gotten in a fight once. Quarantine is isolating, and it’s important to remember what we can do to help our family, friends and complete strangers in this time even when we’re totally separated.

What I’ve been listening to during my quarantine:

  • Lil Uzi Vert – Lil Uzi Vert vs. The World 2 (4/5) and Eternal Atake (4/5) – If Uzi releases an album every week during the quarantine, we will emerge better than we started.
  • Jay Electronica (& JAY-Z) [4/5] – A Written Testimony – Well, it finally happened. It took over a decade, but Jay Electronica got JAY-Z to record over half his debut album.
  • Porridge Radio – Every Bad (5/5) &  Soccer Mommy – color theory (5/5) For when you’re feeling angsty that you’ve been inside for over a week.
  • Dogleg – Melee (3/5) – For when you’re feeling angry that you’ve been inside for over a week.
  • Niall Horan – Heartbreak Weather (1/5) – I skimmed a Stereogum article saying that this was an improvement for Horan. I actually don’t know if it is because I didn’t listen to his last album, but this was generally bad. This album sounds like a  supermarket when people aren’t fighting each other for chicken breasts and toilet paper.
  • Four Tet – Sixteen Oceans (4/5) & Sam Gendell – Satin Doll (4/5) – Very good albums for working at home.
    • Tycho – Simulcast (3/5) – Also good instrumental space filler, but the Tycho schtick is getting a little dry.
  • Don Tolliver – Heaven or Hell (2/5) – Don Tolliver, a Travis Scott associate, can apparently only sing one melody.
  • U.S. Girls – Heavy Light (5/5) – This album is great. It’s funky sounds like it was recorded with a lot of people in a big room with wood floors.

What I’ve watched during my quarantine:

  • Outbreak – My girlfriend suggested two weeks ago that we watch Contagion, which is genuinely terrifying, especially given our way of life right now. Outbreak is not the same movie. Outbreak is cartoonish in a very 90s way. Outbreak is to Contagion what Batman & Robin is to The Dark Knight.
  • Little Women (2019) – My girlfriend’s family suggested we all watch a movie at the same time on Sunday night. We picked Little Women, which we had seen around Christmas. It’s a great film with great acting that’s beautifully shot and a new twist on a timeless classic that makes both Jo and Amy more complex than previous adaptations. However, during our viewing, my girlfriend had to work because apparently there’s still a presidential primary going on and I played a game on my phone the entire time while waiting for the movie to end so I could watch Westworld. Apologies to my girlfriend’s family, we’ll try this again. (I took a quiz, and if you’re asking, I’m a Shoshanna.)
  • Yesterday – Mash and I watched this while FaceTiming concurrent viewings. It will surprise no one that this movie sucks. First of all, the romantic storyline drags on and ping-pongs too long (not enough smooching!!!). Secondly, the moral of the story is it’s okay to plagiarize if you’re helping preserve the memory of great work. Third, they decided to include old John Lennon. The main character just shows up at his house without explanation, then just starts insulting him for not being rich and calling him old. Oh yeah, and this movie is about The Beatles, and its big climax is set to a fucking Ed Sheeran song!
  • Love Is Blind –  Big Cameron and Lauren guy right here! LIB is captivating, but it feels much higher stakes than The Bachelor, but also more likely to produce results. I’m not done yet, but I can pretty much figure out whose going to make it and who isn’t.
  • Westworld – I really hope this show is on an uptick. Could you tell me or remember what happened in season 2? I’m questioning the nature of my reality.

What I’m reading under quarantine:

  • Path to Power by Robert Caro – This is the first of five books by Robert Caro on Lyndon B. Johnson. It’s 700 pages long and it is dense. I’m over 400 pages in and our friend Lyndon JUST became a congressman. He doesn’t even become the VICE president in this book. It’s really interesting while also being a slog.

Come back here tomorrow for more installments of my quarantine life.

East Coast Witch Life: Best of 2019

 

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Best Albums of 2019

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  1. Charly Bliss – Young Enough

Overcoming personal trauma and millennial burnout are the fuel for the fire behind the year’s best album. Young Enough, the second album from the Brooklyn quartet is essentially the act smothering that fire with glitter. Lead singer Eva Hendricks reclaims her narrative from an abusive former partner with a combination of rage, tears, and glee. The synths, guitars, and drums from Eva, her brother Sam, Spencer Fox and Dan Shure electrify the furnace which turns the coal of pain into the diamond that is the triumph of coming out the other side.

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  1. Bon Iver – i,i

Striking at first, Bon Iver’s fourth album can initially sound like a series of sketches and unfinished thoughts. However, the more time one spends with it, these sketches become beautiful moving objects. The combination of found sounds, unorthodox instrumentation and too-many eclectic collaborators to fill a small town make i,i one of 2019’s most creative records.

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  1. Vampire Weekend – Father of the Bride

The structure and mentality of Vampire Weekend changed dramatically during their near 6-year hiatus between 2013’s Modern Vampires of the City and this year’s Father of the Bride. Rostam, the architect of VW’s signature sound, left the band to pursue a solo and production career. Ezra Koenig and Ariel Reichtstaid inspired by the Grateful Dead, the internet and the Time Crisis Beats 1 radio show subverted the band’s roots. FotB crosses a full spectrum of orchestral, ska, jam, choral and electronic music for a complete refresh of the Vampire Weekend canon.

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  1. Solange – When I Get Home

The younger Knowles sister follows up her critically acclaimed A Seat At The Table with a love letter to her native Houston. Home bounces like UGK but glides like an avant-garde work. Each song feels like a quick glimpse into a piece of H-Town on a chrome slab. (I’ve never been to Houston, and I’m sure I sound like it.)

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  1. Brittany Howard – Jaime

The Alabama Shakes lead singer tells a tale or eleven on her debut solo album. Howard not only writes stories of her black and queer America but journeys from R&B to hard rock to metal in less than 40 minutes. Using her idiosyncratic voice and exceptional talent, Howard tells us exactly who she is and refuses to let anyone tell her otherwise.

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  1. Helado Negro – This is How You Smile

This is How You Smile is as soothing as a piece of music can be. It’s a warm bath after a long week. Roberto Carlos Lange coos with his voice and twinkles on the guitar as the world tunes out of focus. In this manic and overstimulated world, it’s critical that music still has the power to draw us to ourselves.

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  1. Billie Eilish – when we all fall asleep, where do we go?

The kids might be ok with telling us they’re not okay. If you don’t know who Billie Eilish is, well, maybe you didn’t listen to music in 2019. She’s what would happen if Lorde lived in Halloweentown. A prodigal songwriter, Eilish sings as several different characters over baroque beats by her brother Finneas. Billie Eilish gives me hope that kids can still find their own identity in this hyperconnected age.

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  1. Whitney – Forever Turned Around

If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Chicago band Whitney doesn’t reinvent the wheel on their second album. Their first record Light Upon The Lake, a country-tinged indie rock jaunt was one of the best works of 2016. I’ve always advocated the best way for a band or artist to stay relevant after a great album is to keep most of it, but tie in some new creative elements. However, sometimes, I just want seconds.

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  1. Purple Mountains – Self-titled

Released less than a month before Berman’s suicide, Mountains was the window into the mind of a man who tethered his bonds and grimaced as the foundations of our society. Working with members of the band Woods after a decade long hiatus, Berman’s ultimate work was dark country tales of a man and a world, both in decline.

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  1. Lana Del Rey – Norman Fucking Rockwell!

Donald Trump is still president. Climate change is threatening our very existence and no is power seems to care. Robots are taking our jobs. Living in 2019 could feel like the end of the world. Lana Del Rey has always sounded like she’s singing at a hotel piano lounge during the apocalypse since her rise to prominence in 2012, but on NFR she perfects her timing. The record is weird, biting and funny, while still making for a Sublime cover.

Best songs of 2019

  1. Charly Bliss – “Chatroom”
  2. Bon Iver – “iMi”
  3. Lizzo – “Juice”
  4. Sharon Van Etten – “Seventeen”
  5. 21 Savage – “a lot” (featuring J. Cole)
  6. Charli XCX – “Gone” (featuring Christine & The Queens)
  7. Angel Olsen – “All Mirrors”
  8. Vampire Weekend – “Bambina”
  9. Lil Nas X – “Old Town Road” (Remix featuring Billy Ray Cyrus)
  10. Charly Bliss – “Capacity”
  11. Tyler Childers – “All Your’n”
  12. The Comet is Coming – “Summon The Fire”
  13. Big Thief – “Cattails”
  14. Better Oblivion Community Center – “Dylan Thomas”
  15. Normani – “Motivation”
  16. Zack Fox & Kenny Beats – “Jesus is the One (I Got Depression)”
  17. Stormzy – “Vossi Bop”
  18. The National – “Not in Kansas”
  19. Brittany Howard – “Goat Head”
  20. Aldous Harding – “The Barrel”
  21. Craig Finn – “Something to Hope For”
  22. Rico Nasty & Kenny Beats – “Big Titties” (featuring Earthgang & Bauuer)
  23. Fontaines D.C. – “Boys in the Better Land”
  24. Girlpool – “Pretty”
  25. Clairo – “I Wouldn’t Ask You”

Young Thug’s “So Much Fun” is less fun than it could be

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Young Thug is an enigma. He’s an unexplainable, boundary-pusher changing the way we consider the limits of genre altogether.

Thug is not bound by the laws of nature. His voice is amorphous. Sometimes it’s a high-pitched squeal, but sometimes a low rapid-fire growl. We’re inclined to say he’s a rapper, but he’s more than that. Young Thug is a machine where one song goes in another completely different song will come out the other end. He can start a song rapping, then he might go a million different directions. He could end up singing, howling, gargling, sputtering or slithering.

In the Pixar movie, Inside Out, the avatars for Joy and Sadness get trapped briefly in the space of the brain reserved for abstract thought. As they try to escape to the main part of the brain, their forms devolve from CGI to polygons to 2D to shapes to lines.

Young Thug is that deconstruction, but for the last 15-20 years of rap music. He’s broken down rapping from words on a beat, to melodic flows, to bars that sound cool but mean nothing, to just pure noise.

For an artist who has never released an “album,” until now, Young Thug has been prolific. Since released the mixtape Tha Tour Pt. 1 with Rich Homie Quan and Birdman in 2014, he’s delivered five more mixtapes, a collaborative mixtape, a collaborative album, three EPs and an R&B project. Thug has given a lot of gifts, but because mixtapes and Eps are considered precursors to an album, we’ve been waiting on one.

Some of those mixtapes, Barter 6, My Name is Jeffrey and the third Slime Season are strong projects that present the potential for a superstar who can’t be confined. The expectation was set that when an actual album finally came out it would be a step above the rest of his discography. A debut album called HY!£UN35 (pronounced Hitunes) was hyped since 2013, a stage had been set.

The official debut album So Much Fun, released this weekend, is ultimately just another Young Thug project. Pointedly, that’s not a bad thing because most of his works are fantastic and strange like the rapper who made them.

As I said, Young Thug is undefinable, but so many rappers have tried to copy that undefinable sound for their own. So Much Fun is half collaborations and many of those collaborators are copycats. Proteges Gunna, Lil Baby, Lil Keed and Lil Duke are essentially little Young Thug clones. Juice WRLD and Lil Uzi Vert are just Thug clones who listened to much My Chemical Romance. It can feel like Young Thug invited his copycats to do half the work, but the listener can’t figure out what half is him. (Quavo, 21 Savage, J. Cole, and Travis Scott also appear on SMF)

So Much Fun is actually, well, fun. Go-to producer Wheezy is a great creative partner and shapes out most of the album. Thug’s work with melodies is ever-present and he conforms himself to every beat.

I keep thinking of Charli XCX when I think of an artist like Thug. (I had this thought over a year ago about Lil Yachty.) I appreciate artists like Young Thug, Charli and Yachty because they find wide appeals reenvisioning how pop, rap or both should sound, by breaking down the parts of the genre machine and creating something new and refreshing.

After her commercially-appealing, but somewhat bland album Sucker, Charli went on the path of working with out-there producers and collaborators to make amazing mixtapes like Pop 2 and Number 1 Angelthat sacrificed commercial appeal for sound-bending reimaginings of pop songs.

Ultimately, Thug could have made a greater push to the constructs he’s already deconstructed. Every song could have come out on any of the previous projects. Young Thug is weird, but I’m ready for the music he makes to get weirder. He has the ability to continue to break down the confines of genre and create something amazing.

4 out of 5

Best Track: “Surf” (featuring Gunna)

E-40’s “Bet You Didn’t Know That” is ridiculous and informative

E-40 is the most prolific rapper. Period. He does not only put out 30-track albums. He releases out multiple projects a year.

20-plus track albums are becoming the norm. When that happens, it is very easy to drift off in the middle. However, there are those moments where a track catches your full attention.

In the middle of 40 Water’s latest and 29th (29th!) album, Practice Makes Paper, there is one of those songs. Now, I wouldn’t say “Bet You Didn’t Know,” track 22 of 26, is great, nor would I say it’s terrible. But it is amazing and I just had to say something about it.

The beat by Issue is great has one of those obscure pop samples. My expectation was that E-40 was going to continue to just flex his resume of his 33-year career and his talents as a hustler, but how wrong I was.

For almost four minutes, E-40 just lists out interesting facts you might not have known. I thought he was just introing his own song, but the verses just never came. He literally spat facts. That’s it. I thought the Lonely Island was going to show up, but this was a not parody song.

Here are the top three facts you can learn from E-40’s “Bet You Didn’t Know”:

  • Oatmeal can scrape the plaque off of your arteries
  • You could put your kid on your credit card to help your kids build they credit
  • A dolphin can beat a shark

I didn’t want to just share this song with everyone because it’s amazing that it exists. I wanted to make sure you learned something today.

E-40 is a national treasure and I hope he makes at least 29 more albums.

 

 

“The Lost Boy” by YBN Cordae

YBN Cordae - The Lost Boy

“And you may find yourself in a beautiful house, with a beautiful wife/And you may ask yourself, “Well… how did I get here?” asked David Byrne on “Once in a Lifetime.” Life is dynamic. Fortunes can be made and reversed. We may arrive at points in our life where our surroundings are unrecognizable a year earlier.

The Lost Boy, the debut album by DMV-based rapper YBN Cordae does not sound a damn thing like Talking Heads, but it wrestles with that concept. I was there, now I’m here isn’t a new idea. Drake famously started from the bottom even though he was on a teen soap opera before he was a rap and pop phenomenon. Cordae doesn’t approach getting there like winning the race and gnashing his teeth into his gold medal.  He is catching his breath and looking back at the starting line.

YBN Cordae’s rise, while no one would say is meteoric, has happened fast. It does feel unexpected though because he isn’t the first YBN rapper to reach prominence. YBN Nahmir had a minor hit in 2017 with “Rubbin Off The Paint,” a fun, quick song about flexing guns.

There are a lot of rappers out there with acronyms and crew affiliations preceding their names: A$AP Rocky & Ferg, NBA Youngboy (Commercially known as Young Boy Never Broke Again due to an obvious copyright issue), NLE Choppa, YK Osiris, and ShooterGang Kony. These rappers are part of larger crews that are intended to create opportunities for all their members, but usually only one or two get the glory.  The other crew affiliates are relegated to an occasional guest verse.

That’s what makes YBN Cordae the surprising star of a crew with an interesting backstory. YBN all met while playing Grand Theft Auto V online. They would rap as they played. Like Brockhampton, they were all around the map but met online. Then they began to link up as a crew. There are roughly 20 members. From the jump, it had seemed that Alabama-raised Nahmir would be the sole star of YBN or at least have the sole hit. Then, Cordae started putting out tracks and videos and people paid attention.

He put out a track called “Kung Fu,” and people noticed the disparity between the two rappers. “Rubbing Off The Paint,” was based around its feathery beat and it was over rather quickly in one verse. “Kung Fu” was more bombastic and while Cordae could go for two or three.

Cordae became the face of YBN. A few weeks ago, he was named an XXL Freshman, one year after Nahmir receive the same accolade. He is in no way a big-time star like a Drake or a Travis Scott, but he’s getting name recognition and a real career off the ground.

The Lost Boy features many A-list guests including Meek Mill, Pusha T, Anderson .Paak and Chance The Rapper. (This morning I presumed I would be listening to and reflecting on Chance’s debut album The Big Day, however, it didn’t arrive until midday.) But The Lost Boy sounds like an album Chance would make but in a more succinct package.

Cordae’s album sounds like a distant cousin of Coloring Book. Much of the album has that kind of spirituality the Chicago rapper wraps himself in. Cordae reaches out to his cousins, parents and there’s even a skit in the middle called “Grandma’s House,” which is supposedly a recording of his family sings in response with their matriarch.

Home is a common theme on the project. The Chance collaboration “Bad Idea,” refers to the innocence of childhood, but also the traumas that could be seen on Cordae’s block. “Way Back Home,” with Ty Dolla $ign, however, is about the exhaustion of being on the road. On “We Gon Make It,” Meek Mill does his best Young Thug-impersonation on the hook, while the two rappers say how they’re going to make it up to their family.

Cordae proves he’s a truly talented rapper as well. On “RNP,” Anderson .Paak and Cordae spit conversationally. Take A Daytrip who produced Lil Nas X’s “Panini” and Sheck Wes’ “Mo Bamba,” crafted “Broke as Fuck” in which the frantic beat feels acts as an accelerating treadmill and pushing Cordae to rap faster.

I was lucky delivered his new album later than expected. The Lost Boy was a pleasant surprise, but it’s more than just a filler for the 12 hours we waited to get The Big Day. It’s a promising debut for an artist given an unexpected opportunity to be a star.

Score: 4/5

Best Track: “RNP” (featuring Anderson .Paak)

“Brandon Banks” by Maxo Kream

Image result for brandon banks album cover

Is there still a place for storytellers and traditionalists in rap music? Songs are becoming shorter. Artists are putting out 20-plus song albums that begin to blend into each other after song five. Algorithms and streams are making it more profitable to churn out a bunch of repetitive, flashy two-minute hits than tell a story.  A rap song might not even be confined to rap anymore.

Alas, there may still be a place for traditionalists. In 2019, the two hottest new artists Charlotte’s DaBaby and Houston’s Megan Thee Stallion don’t make SoundCloud rap or singsong-rap. They just rap, that’s it. So maybe, we’re starting to stray back to old norms.

And there’s a place for storytellers too. While not exactly 2019’s hot new artist, Maxo Kream has released his major-label debut, Brandon Banks, this week. (Last year, he released his indie debut Punken. It turns out the term debut is open to interpretation.)

The title Brandon Banks is the name Maxo’s Nigerian-born father Emekwanem Ogugua Biosah used as a “scammer” as Maxo says before he ended up in prison.  (Maxo’s government name is Emekwanem Ogugua Biosah Jr.) The album’s cover is photos of their faces taped together. The album is the story of the senior Biosah going away, Maxo becoming the man of the house and turning to hustling to support himself and his family.

Maxo is a master storyteller using his husky voice and pitter-patter flow to pack a short story into a few verses. Each track is a vignette about Maxo’s life of crime with the Houston crips. “3 AM” is a play-by-play of a house robbery reminiscent of Kendrick’s “The Art of Peer Pressure” featuring Lamar’s labelmate ScHoolboy Q. The opener “Meet Again” plays as the letters Maxo and his father swapped while he was locked up.

While this is Maxo’s story, there is a cadre of major-label debut status guests including Q, Travis Scott, A$AP Ferg, and Megan Thee aforementioned Stallion. While the album is a story of growing up without a father, there are songs meant for the radio. On “She Live,” Megan and Maxo exchange what they’re looking for in a sexual partner. The Scott-featuring “The Relays,” sounds like a legitimate hit while La Flame doesn’t push too much of his auto-tuned tendencies on to Maxo’s own.

Brandon Banks is an eclectic display of Maxo’s technical and storytelling ability. Most of the tracks are grim tales of life in mostly-typical Houston style including “Bissonet,” “Brenda,” and “8 Figures.” There’s a moment near the end on “Dairy Ashford Bastard” where it almost sounds like we’re listening to Chance The Rapper.

Maxo Kream is a solid traditional rap storyteller in a time when Hip-Hop seems to be disintegrating into every other genre. Brandon Banks is the harrowing and detailed tale of fatherless men on the streets of Houston. That is a tale worth hearing in full.

Score: 4.5/5

Best Track: “8 Figures”