In the best possible way, Joey Bada$$ sounds like he’s beaming in from a different era. This Brooklyn MC is all about hip-hop stripped down to its bare essentials, the focus placed firmly on the beats and the lyrics. In a rap game where so many tracks are laden with identikit dance-pop production in order to increase their chart potential, Joey’s embrace of the old-school is ludicrously refreshing.
‘Word is Bond’ is a lean and direct beast. The beats boom and snap with irresistible purpose, while a languid piano loop and expertly placed turntable squiggles round out a production that feels genuinely timeless.
Lyrically, Bada$$ is also operating at a different level. Without wishing to sound like the creaky old giffer that he undoubtedly is, your reviewer can’t help but feel that today’s scene seems overly populated by rappers who, well, can’t really rap. In so many cases, genuine lyrical dexterity has been replaced with mush-mouthed mumbling. It’s hard to believe someone like French Montana could hold his own in an animated conversation, much less a rap battle. By contrast, Joey Bada$$ takes an obvious pleasure in crafting and delivering memorable lines.
This care and attention is reflected in the protracted genesis of his new mixtape ‘Summer Knights’. For fans, it’s been a long time coming, but that’s just because Bada$$ wanted to get it right.
“It’s been about a year,” he told Prefix. “I’m a perfectionist. I’m really nervous with what I put out, and really self-conscious. I can’t hold on to my tracks too long because I’ll just start to hate it. Ask any one of my homies, they’ll tell you—I hate every song I’ve ever made. Because the thing is, I record it and then listen to it like fifty times after, and I play it out before anybody ever even hears it. To hear people bumping shit I did like a year ago, it’s the strangest.”
If this slow process results in more tracks like ‘Word is Bond’, let’s hope Joey Bada$$ keeps on taking his time.
Being an innovator isn’t always easy. As the ‘Godfather of Grime’, Wiley was one of the figureheads of one of the most exciting recent developments in British music. But once you become a symbol for an entire genre, you also become a target should you seek to blur your musical boundaries. Dare to step outside the narrow parameters defined by self-appointed purists and suddenly you’re a sellout.
Thankfully, Wiley doesn’t appear to have let his status become a millstone round his neck. Quite the contrary, he sees his willingness to embrace new ideas as key to his longevity.
“I think the main way that I have stayed relevant – or tried to – is by finding a balance in the music I make,” he told MTV. “Obviously I started out with grime, but things have moved on since then, for me. The hardest part about changing, or ‘success’, is that as music lovers we have this thing where when everybody else starts to like it, we decide not to love it as much anymore.”
Latest album ‘The Ascent’, successfully straddles the line between underground club bangers and chart-friendly pop songs. ‘Lights On’ falls squarely into the latter camp. Big dancefloor synths and a syrupy vocal hook from guest Angel practically guarantee that this is going to one of those inescapable summer hits. But despite all the success, there’s a good chance that Wiley may not be around that much longer.
“Even though getting to the top of the charts is a big deal, people forget that I’ve been doing music for 15 years now and yeah, I could keep releasing music and chasing another hit, but I want my next project after ‘The Ascent’ album to be my last – I’m planning on retiring around the end of 2014 or 2015.”
Enjoy him while he lasts.
A$AP Ferg’s remix of ‘Work’ represents excellent value for money. Alongside the hotly tipped Ferg himself, you also get verses from A$AP Mob compatriots French Montana, Trinidad James, Schoolboy Q and A$AP Rocky. That’s a spicy meatball! Little wonder the track has blown up big style, pulling down Gangnam-esque levels of YouTube views and slowly becoming a mainstay of hip-hop radio.
With such a packed roster, it’s little wonder that ‘Work’ has something of a party atmosphere. Booming beats and cycling synth stabs provide a welcoming backdrop for all the performers to pop up and do their thing. As fun as it all sounds, having so many big names in the same place must have raised the pressure.
‘You definitely gotta be competitive, because rapping is a competitive sport,” Ferg told HipHopDX. “Everybody’s on the track to beat out the best; that’s the one thing about being a rapper. All rappers have egos, so when you get on a track with four other hot artists that are hot right now. You’re talking about Trinidad that got one of the biggest singles, if not the biggest single this year, with “All Gold Everything.” And then you got Flacko, in which “Fuckin’ Problems” went platinum, then you have French Montana, who has full rotation on radio; he’s being played in clubs, strip clubs, everywhere. Then you have ScHoolboy Q, who is a lyrical genius from TDE. You gotta go hard. I play with the big boys. They’re really good artists.”
Ferg’s background in the rap battle scene on the streets of Harlem means he can definitely hold his own among such illustrious company. Debut album ‘Trap Lord’ is set to drop in August, featuring guest appearances from heavyweights like Onyx and Bone Thugs-N-Harmony, so we’ll see then if he can also keep up with rappers from outside the A$AP Mob family.
What really constitutes a guest spot on a hip-hop track? We ask because – despite this being billed as a Wale joint – the man himself doesn’t put in an appearance until almost four minutes in. Instead, the heavy lifting is done by Maybach Music Group head honcho Ross and Lupe Fiasco of ‘conscious hip-hop’ fame. However these things are decided, the trio combine to good effect on a record that’s unusually contemplative for something from the Maybach stable, where bitches, money and expensive cars are often the key concerns.
Over a summery groove layered with G-funk squiggles and skittering beats, they explore life choices that lead to so many young black men winding up dead or in prison. We’ll leave it to you to decide how this sits with Ross and co’s day job of gleefully celebrating the gangsta life and its many monetary rewards, but it’s a welcome gear change nonetheless.
‘Poor Decisions’ is taken from the forthcoming ‘Self Made, Vol 3’ compilation, where Wale is joined by a host of his Maybach chums, but he also has his own album in the works. ‘The Gifted’ is set for release on June 25, and its creator is promising a record that will speak for itself.
“I’m giving you music, I’m giving you what the people need,” he told MTV. “I’m tired of y’all rappers like, ‘I got four joints for the ladies, I got two for the club, I got three inspirational,’ … Nah, paint a picture, show me wassup. I’m not even gonna do all that other stuff. I’ma talk with the music. Until my album drop, until June 25, I’ma talk loud with the music. I’ve done everything I could do, I’ve said everything I could say. I’ve kissed the babies, I’ve shook the hands — now let’s let the music talk because I ain’t about to come here and tell y’all exactly how I feel no more. I’ma let it all sing in the music.”
In an age where many acts are so narrowly focused on themselves, Fuse ODG makes for a refreshing change. This London-born, Ghanaian-raised rapper, singer and all round media powerhouse isn’t interested in banging on about things he owns, dissing haters and offering relentless appraisals of his own status. He’s actually trying to make a difference in the world, both through his smile inducingly bouncy afrobeat music and through wider extra curricular activities. He’s the figurehead of a movement known as TINA, which stands for This is New Africa. He’s setting himself some pretty lofty goals
“My mission is to elevate and change the perception of Africa,” he told The Master Copy. “I’ve got a long way to go in changing the perception of Africa and battling what the media who portray Africa with some child with flies around their mouth. For me it’s gonna take more than music, it’s good that music is doing a lot to let people know about Africa and people are a lot more proud to be African, but we need people from different sectors and environments to make moves and showcase the positive stuff that Africa has.”
But Fuse ODG isn’t just a socially driven cultural ambassador. He’s also the creator of infectious floor shakers like ‘Antenna’, a song destined to soundtrack many a barbecue if summer ever materialises. Fuse’s last song ‘Azonto’ became something of a viral hit, garnering millions of hits on YouTube, shifting plenty of units via iTunes and making him the first UK artist to ever win a Ghana Music Award. ‘Antenna’ could easily emulate this success, particularly as Fuse has roped in stripper-loving former Fugee and Haitian presidential candidate Wyclef Jean as a collaborator.
‘Antenna’s irrepressible energy – coupled with Fuse ODG’s positive attitude and altruistic leanings – makes it a hard song to dislike, so hopefully it will continue its author’s upwards trajectory. Sometimes it’s good to see the nice guy win.
It’s right there in the title. French Montana simply doesn’t have a care in the world. He’s experienced a hardscrabble upbringing on the streets of Casablanca and Brooklyn, survived being shot in the head and done a bit of jail time. Now he’s living in a world where it’s all wall-to-wall Lamborghini Gallardos and monogrammed underwear made of unicorn skin. Why wouldn’t he be feeling relaxed about stuff?
He’s certainly taking it easy on this song. It’s a woozy celebration of all the f**ks French doesn’t give, a slow burning, blissed-out throb, overlaid with slurred vocals that suggest Montana might have hit the mini bar before picking up the mic. The track is taken from the just released debut album ‘Excuse My French’, a record its creator believes has serious long-term potential.
“Honestly, I really believe it’s not what you sell, but where you end up at,” he told Ask Men. “I feel like it doesn’t matter how much I sell; I know what kind of product I have. It’s going to be legendary. I know it’s going to last forever. I know once people hear it, people will be like, ‘Damn. This is really it.’ Look at Akon. He sold 17,000 first week; he ended up selling five million copies. Look at Shaggy. He sold 10,000 and ended up at 10 million.”
He’s setting his sights high. Can any current artist craft something as timeless and epochal as ‘It Wasn’t Me’, or that Akon song with all the autotune? French clearly thinks so and he’s counting on the sales to match. It’s just another example of his tremendously carefree attitude. ‘Excuse My French’ actually shifted 56,000 copies in its first week, taking it to number four on the Billboard chart. Look out Shaggy! Your days at the top of the pile are numbered!
The arrival of Korean pop star and famed horse dancer Psy’s follow up to the omnipresent ‘Gangnam Style’ is a bigger event than your average single release. It’s not just web nerds and fans of K Pop who were hunched over YouTube awaiting their first glimpse of ‘Gentleman’. Even august institutions like The Guardian devoted column inches to the song’s release and the worldwide reaction to it. I suppose that’s just what happens when you follow up something that transcended music to become a genuine, meme-spawning cultural phenomenon.
At first glance, it seems Psy is staying on familiar ground. Big bouncy beats? Check. Chunky synth squawks? Check. Easy to emulate comedy dance moves? Double check. While the familiarity of Psy’s schtick means it doesn’t have quite the same WTF quality as ‘Gangnam Style’, its infectiousness is undeniable. It’s already bagged more than 150 million views on YouTube, tying with footage of the recent meteor explosion in Russia as the video to most quickly crack the one million views mark.
In light of all this, it’s easy to forget that Psy didn’t spring fully formed from the internet a year ago, but is actually a music star of some standing in his native South Korea. At least the worldwide perception of Psy as a pleasingly rotund pop jester isn’t getting to the man himself.
“Some people in Korea see me as a comedian as well,” he said in an interview with KpopStarz. “I don’t mind. A lot of people say that. They say things like, ‘You’re successful because you’re funny, your dance is funny and you’re famous for your music video’. Others tell me they worry about me and say that they believe my five minutes of fame will end here. I am a mainstream singer and a mainstream product. People label what I am. If they think I am a comedian, it is something to be grateful for. I don’t care what I am labelled as.”
The Disney Corporation gets a lot of flack, but it takes some beating as a conveyor belt of hyper-successful pop stars and entertainers. Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera and Justin Timberlake all got their start in the House of Mouse. One time Bieber squeeze Selena Gomez is currently shaking off her wholesome tween image in the James Franco-starring bikini-fest Spring Breakers. And who could forget Lovato’s Camp Rock compatriots, the Jonas Brothers? These abstinence-loving siblings once occupied the space now taken by One Direction in the hormonal hearts of legions of fans.
But translating your Magic Kingdom stardom into a lengthy career can be a tricky. Trousersnake’s effortless transformation into all round cool music/acting dude is very much the exception. Both Britney and Xtina have had some rough patches, while the Jonas Brothers’ fortunes have gone the way of their dimly remembered fraternal forebears Hanson.
Disney alumni Demi Lovato is still in that sweet spot between youth and adulthood where she’s still a relatable entity to her teenage fans. Consequently, ‘Heart Attack’ is a slick and efficient exercise in modern electronic pop that’s likely to play well with her devotees. It’s a confessional ode to the debilitating power of love, heavy on the emotion but sparkly enough to dance to around your bedroom. It’s taken from forthcoming fourth album ‘Demi’, which is shaping up to offer a similar brand of happiness and heartbreak.
“I feel like it’s everything that I am and everything I’ve already done but 10 times better,” she told Singapore’s Today Online ahead of a show in the republic last month. “I’m very excited about it, there’re so many really great pop songs and other songs too that get heavy and emotional and I’m opening up too talking about things I’ve never talked about before. It’s a big step for me and I’m really excited.”
Don’t call Imagine Dragons an overnight success. Though they have seemingly burst out of nowhere in the last 18 months or so, this band of Las Vegas natives have been struggling in that business called show for far longer. They’ve served their time on the toilet circuit, dealing with exploding amps and indifferent crowds, so who are we to begrudge them their sudden massive rise to prominence?
Based on ‘Radioactive’ we shouldn’t expect them to fade away any time soon. It’s another rousing and anthemic number which seems ideally suited to the kind of massive venues they now find themselves playing. It’s a got a healthy layer of Maroon 5-style gloss, coupled with a one of those big, wordless chanting choruses that seem so popular these days. Kudos too for the video, which features ex-Young Guns and Bats star Lou Diamond Phillips presiding over a kind of Fight Club for cute fluffy toys.
Interestingly for a band that includes a viola player among their number, Imagine Dragons didn’t go down the standard alternative rock route when it came time to record their debut album ‘It’s Time’. Instead, they tapped Alex Da Kid, a producer chiefly famous for working with acts like B.o.B., Rihanna and Eminem.
“We were very open to it because of the success he has had in the industry and we were already aware of him as a producer,“ guitarist Wayne Sermon told Goldenplec. “We weren’t sure if it would work out, we’re an alternative rock band and he’s more into hip hop and pop so we weren’t sceptical but we were like ‘Ok, let’s give it a shot and see what happens. It was kinda like how it felt with each other when we first played together, it just works. And when we wrote with him, it just worked. It was just easy, it’s the only way I can describe it. It was instant chemistry.. that sounds romantic.”
Aww, bless. It’s nice when things work out.
DJ Khaled occupies a strange spot in rap’s hierarchy. As head of his own label ‘We The Best’ and a regular name in the hip hop charts, he’s undoubtedly a major player. His actual role in his own success is a little murky. Aside from the occasional ad lib, he’s not really a rapper, usually handing over the lyrical heavy lifting to collaborators like Lil Wayne, Rick Ross and Drake. He cut his teeth as a DJ, but leaves the knob twiddling to a host of guest producers rather than making the beats himself.
It seems like a pretty sweet deal. Round up a bunch of talented mates, let them do their thing, slap your name on it and watch the cash roll in. In fairness, there’s probably a little more to it than that. Khaled’s said that his role is more like the manager of a sports team. He gets the pieces together, decides on a direction and makes sure everybody sticks to the plan. When you’re dealing with a genuine ‘character’ like Lil Wayne, that’s probably no easy task.
Whatever Khaled is doing, it’s clearly working out. He’s got six albums under his ample belt, each of which has spawned a number of genuine hits. His next move is seventh record ‘Suffering From Success’. He seems pretty confident that he can maintain his hot streak.
“I’m a winner and I’m going to continue winning,” he said in an interview with Karen Civil. “When I was coming up, I didn’t know that when you win you deal with a lot of unnecessary bullshit in life. So with my album and sound you’re going to hear different types of anthems, the suffering side and the success side. Right now, I’m in the early stages of the album but already I feel like I got three of the biggest anthems of the year.”
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