A MONONYM IS possessed of a certain celebrity: Prince, Madonna, Iman. No surname needed, thank you very much. Just a couple of syllables and the whole of the mononym’s grandeur flashes across our consciousness.
Solange. Two mellifluous syllables and her face springs to mind: the fierce, open gaze, those striking full eyebrows. Solange the singer, songwriter, choreographer, visual and performing artist, with four, soon to be five, albums to her name. Solange the 2017 Grammy winner: Best R&B Performance, “Cranes in the Sky.” Solange, who earlier that year performed for President Obama and the first lady at their final White House party. Solange, whose acclaimed 2016 album, “A Seat at the Table” yoked artistry to activism with its piercing inquiry into race and identity in America, with lyrics such as, “You got the right to be mad / But when you carry it alone, you find it only getting in the way.” Solange the culture maker, whose performance art, digital work and sculpture have been exhibited at the Guggenheim Museum in New York City, the Menil Collection in Houston, the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles and the Tate Modern in London. Solange, named the Harvard Foundation Artist of the Year in 2018.
Though the conflict between Drake and Pusha-T has been wrapped up, one popular conversation birthed from the feud is the existence of rules (if any) in rap beef. Drake’s appearance on HBO’s The Shop spawned a debate across hip-hop, as he stated that certain lines shouldn’t be crossed in rap. Rappers and music industry individuals attempted to argue on both sides, though no general consensus was established.
While still on promo for their Beloved project, Dave East and Styles P (who both recently gave their opinion on the topic) stopped by radio veteran/media personality Funkmaster Flex‘s show on Hot 97. At the end of the video above, around the 6:09 mark, Flex took the time to go on an explicative filled rant addressing the issue of those who seek to establish guidelines in lyrical warfare.
Flex, in his usual candid, unabashed fashion, made his stance unequivocally clear.
“If you get your feelings hurt, fuck you, it don’t really matter,” he began. “If you don’t write your own shit, you ain’t qualified to give motherfucking rules on the fucking game, you fucking bozo.”
The sentiment Flex expressed echoes that of an earlier statement made by Styles regarding the Drake/Pusha T incident. Styles told Hot 97 “you can’t expect in any type of warfare, any type, not just rap, ain’t no rules.”
This isn’t the first time Flex has addressed Drake, as his disdain with the Canadian superstar has always been about the actions taken by Drake that are contrarian to the hip-hop purist (i.e. the infamous Quentin Miller reference tracks).
There’s a special ambiance that permeates the air whenever Lil Wayne drops a Carter project. It’s a remarkable occasion seeing that none of the projects hold a classic album distinction in the traditional sense.
But that’s because Lil Wayne doesn’t adhere to any traditional rap guidelines. His place in Hip Hop’s pantheon can be difficult to outline in words but it’s without question he was a trendsetter for paving the genre’s entry in viable mainstream acceptance. With his penchant for taking studio mastered melodies and completely adopting them with his own zany flow, his relentless flooding of the mixtape circuit found him planted in the eardrums of millions at a different entry point. And the industry official Carter albums would live on to be a place where his multitude of fans could convene on the same accord.
And despite being seven years, 30 days and an infinite amount of trend changes since the release of the last Carter drop date, the kicker this time around is the music is simply just good.
Like all of its previous installments, Tha Carter V is a mile-long, bloated package of unpredictable zest that’s light on introspection (not to discredit Momma Carter’s impromptu interludes over the course of its 87 minutes). Yet its allurement lies in the fact that “Mixtape Weezy” and “Carter Wayne” are able to co-exist with ease.
There’s the Swizz Beatz-boosted “Uproar,” which employs the same Moog Machine sample popularized by G-Dep and Diddy at the top of the decade that gives the album a DatPiff feel intertwined with soul-drenched records like “Demon,” a quasi-Gospel cut that actually gives Wayne maturity stripes.
Even with his elder statesman status, it isn’t hard to hear Wayne’s influence has transcended a couple of generations. Travis Scott cooly incorporates Astroworld inside Weezyana on the “Let It Fly” rager, Kendrick Lamar showcases he’s a rap martian descendant on the long-awaited pairing “Mona Lisa” (ditto for XXXTENTACION, who sheds light on what could have been with his haunting performance on “Don’t Cry”) and even daughter Reginae Carter impresses with her chorus on the reflective “Famous.”
You probably already know that listening to music no longer requires trips to a music store, or purchasing individual songs or albums from iTunes to download to your computer. Today’s best music streaming services have millions of songs in their catalogs, offer personalized playlists, and feature exclusive internet radio shows and podcasts. But which should you pick and pay a subscription fee for?
A good streaming music service has a straightforward user interface that makes it easy to organize a library of thousands of songs or playlists across the web, Android, and iOS apps, and in some cases, a desktop Mac or Windows app. However, while most music streaming services have these features, most of them aren’t free, and nearly all services require paid plans that grant you access to a full on-demand library of music and other features.
While testing these music streaming services, I considered factors like audio quality options, social integration, and built-in lyrics. It’s also absolutely necessary that your streaming app plays nice with more than one personal device. These are all important points when considering which music service to pick and ultimately, make for a better listening experience.
Spotify is the best streaming music service for a variety of reasons, but there’s one in particular that stands out. It has the most consistent iOS, Android, Mac, and Windows experience. It’s far from perfect, of course, but features rolled out to the iOS version follow on Android not too soon after. Competing music services sometimes have issues with certain platforms, like the clunky Android version of Apple Music or the Windows app for Tidal that sometimes won’t load.
Other than having a unified app experience, Spotify has a large catalog of music (35+ million songs), the best playlist recommendations, useful, yet non-intrusive social features, and a variety of plans (including student discounts) that make it great for most music listeners with a smartphone and some headphones.
It’s also one of the streaming services (alongside Amazon Music and Apple Music) that supports offline listening for both mobile and desktop, which is useful when you’re doing work and don’t want to eat up bandwidth or using your device on a plane without internet. Spotify is also supported by most smart speakers and smart devices, so it’s almost universally available on all platforms.
However, Spotify isn’t without shortcomings. There’s no hi-fi option, the app can misbehave when you have a poor cell connection, and uploading purchased songs to your desktop Spotify library is a convoluted process. Still, Spotify’s mobile and desktop experiences are fast and easy to understand. Spotify’s pricing also set the precedent for other music streaming apps. It has a compelling free option on desktop, a $4.99 option for students (US only), the standard $9.99 premium option that lets you download and stream on all your personal devices, and finally, a $14.99 family plan (for six users total).
A GREAT ALTERNATIVE: APPLE MUSIC
Apple Music has a lot going for it that’s pegged on exclusivity. Beats 1 is home to many top-tier artists that use their respective radio shows to demo and tease new music and collaborations. If you’re a fan of certain popular artists, you might find that the first chance you’ll have to hear their new music is on Apple Music, not Spotify or Tidal. Sound quality is usually better than Spotify’s, thanks to Apple Music using a 256kbps AAC bitrate, compared to the max 320kbps Ogg Vorbis bitrate used by Spotify.
Banking on this sense of access and being “in the know,” Apple Music tops this off with artist’s music videos, adding a visual treat you can enjoy without having to go to another app. However for comparison, Tidal, YouTube Music, and Spotify are the other streaming services that offer music videos built into the app. Of those, only Spotify has short vertical videos for a few of its popular songs; Apple Music does not.
Apple Music also has a digital locker feature that subscribers can take advantage of, to the tune of 100,000 songs. Although, you should be hard-pressed not to find your purchased music in Apple Music’s library of over 50 million songs. You can also save these songs for offline listening on iOS, Android, Mac, Windows, and the Apple Watch.
The iOS, Android, and desktop apps are my least favorite user music streaming interfaces. The abundant use of hot pink accents and white backgrounds everywhere isn’t the most comfortable to view at night. On Android, the Apple Music app feels even more out of place and occasionally had problems staying open on my Pixel 2 XL. Using Apple Music on a desktop requires you to use iTunes, an app that’s slow, cumbersome, confusing, and long overdue for a redesign. Apple Music has definitely not been blessed with the most beautiful interfaces the designers at Cupertino have released.
Apple Music’s pricing is similar to Spotify and other services: $9.99 monthly or $14.99 for a family plan (up to six users), with student discounts varying by country.
If you’re an audiophile — someone who is enthusiastic about hi-fi reproduction — and want to use a streaming service, there are some good alternatives.
For those that have audio hardware capable of taking advantage of lossless hi-fi, then Tidal or Deezer’s $20 lossless plans might be good options. Tidal has a $9.99 on-demand plan as well, but it doesn’t get you the higher sound quality.
On the flip side, casual listeners who want a more radio-style streaming service can opt for the $5 radio-only, no ads version of Pandora; it also includes on-demand streaming, but it’s less mature than its competitors in terms of playlist recommendations and library management.
But what if you have thousands of songs you’ve already purchased the old-fashioned way? If you want the benefits of uploading your music to the cloud and a music streaming service to back that up — that is more consistent on Android and the web — then Google Play Music is the perfect option. However, next year Google is merging YouTube Music with Play Music into a new service with a music uploading feature, so it might be worth waiting.
Tha Carter V is coming out this week — but for real this time.
A week after rumors of Lil Wayne’s long-awaited album proved to be false, the rapper himself has announced that the hotly-anticipated project will finally see the light of day on Thursday, his 36th birthday.
In a video posted to YouTube (see above), the five-time Grammy winner shared the news, thanking those who have stuck with him over the years. “I always give y’all all of me, but with this album, I’m giving you more than me,” he said. “This is four, five, six years of work that you’ll be listening to.”
A date for Tha Carter V comes seven years after the Carter IV and four years after it was delayed days before the planned release date due to the dispute between Wayne and his mentor/Cash Money boss Birdman.
Hip-hop has never been about following rules. From the genre’s birth in the late ‘70s to today’s explosion of innovative pop-rap superstars, the music has always rewarded audacious creativity and outside-the-box thinking. While hip-hop has gone mainstream and become the world’s preeminent form of popular music, there are still artists working outside of industry boundaries and refusing to let labels, managers, or anyone influence their art. Below, we give props to five uncompromising artists who’ve found their own lanes and chased greatness on their own terms.
Dessa: A Multifaceted Artist with a Singular Voice
Before launching her career as a rapper, singer, spoken-word artist, author, and Doomtree label head, the Minneapolis native born Margaret Wander worked as a technical writer for a medical company. In a sense, she’s come full-circle with Chime, the critically acclaimed album she released in early 2018. It’s Dessa’s fourth collection of smart, soulful alternative hip-hop songs, and it was inspired by a project whereby she collaborated with neuroscientists to pinpoint the exact part of her brain dedicated to romantic love. Chime is just the latest example of how this one-time philosophy major has challenged the idea of what a female hip-hop artist can be. In a 2018 interview with Billboard, Dessa shared her secret for having such a rich and varied career: “I worry a little bit less about trying to forestall people’s opinions and just try to do good work.”
Cardi B: A Personality Too Big to Fail
By the time Cardi B topped the Billboard Hot 100 in 2017 with “Bodak Yellow,” the Bronx native was already on her fourth career. In the years leading up to her musical breakthrough, Cardi went from stripping to making viral videos to stealing scenes on Vh1’s Love & Hip Hop: New York. All of those pursuits showcased the qualities that would make Cardi one of the most exciting new rappers of the ‘10s. Cardi is sexy and funny, outrageous and vulnerable, tough as hell yet instantly loveable. Her excellent 2018 debut album, Invasion of Privacy, reached #1 on the Billboard 200 and silenced critics who thought she’d be a one-hit wonder. Invasion of Privacy has spawned a second chart-topper, the Latin-flavored “I Like It,” which you’ve surely heard blasting from cars all summer. While pregnancy kept Cardi from touring in recent months, motherhood is only going to make this vivacious truth-spitter a more compelling artist in years to come.
Tyler The Creator: More Than Just a Troublemaker
When the Odd Future collective came on the scene in 2010, nobody knew what to make of them. The blog-hyped L.A. rappers became infamous for their offensive lyrics, chaotic life shows, and unwillingness to play by anyone’s rules. Leading the pack was Tyler The Creator, a multifaceted troublemaker who’d spend the next decade revealing his genius. In addition to overseeing numerous Odd Future releases and four solo LPs — including last year’s Grammy-nominated Flower Boy — Tyler has directed music videos, launched his own Golf Wang clothing line, and spearheaded the Camp Flog Gnaw Carnival music festival. Tyler’s extracurriculars make it easy to overlook his rapping, but the fact is that he’s a stellar MC with the power to make you feel all sorts of ways. On Flower Boy, Tyler surprised everyone by serving up his most mature, confessional lyrics to date. Tyler sums up his career perfectly on the song “Who Dat Boy,” asking, “Who dat boy? Who him is?” The world will be chewing on those questions for quite a while.
Curren$y: The Underground Hero Who Never Lets You Down
The New Orleans rapper born Shante Scott Franklin knows how the big boys operate. He signed with Master P’s No Limit label in 2002, then struck a deal with Lil Wayne’s Cash Money Records in 2004. Curren$y appeared on Weezy’s Tha Carter II in 2005 and dropped the minor hit “Where Da Cash At” the following year. Neither of those projects quite made him a star, so in 2007, Curren$y jumped ship to the independent digital-only Amalgam Records and rebranded himself as a niche underground artist with an ear for consistency. In 2011, Curren$y, a.k.a. Spitta, formed Jet Life, the label he’s used to launch some of his many, many, many projects. Free of major-label interference, Curren$y has amassed a massive discography that includes eight studio albums and more than 40 mixtapes. More importantly, he’s built a devoted fan base that comes to see him perform live year after year. Spitta’s not going to break streaming records like Drake, but he’s a dependable artist in an age of disposability.
Chance the Rapper: The Superstar Who Gives His Music Away
When Chance the Rapper picked up the Grammy for Best Rap Album in 2017, it was notable for two reasons. First off, Chance’s Coloring Book is an incredible collection of gospel-inflected hip-hop songs from an artist who speaks on social issues without getting preachy or forgetting that music is supposed to be fun. Second, Coloring Bookwas the first-ever streaming-only album nominated for a Grammy. While the Recording Academy didn’t change its eligibility rules specifically for Chance, the Chicago rapper had long been at the forefront of artists challenging traditional release models. Chance is the king of the free “mixtape” — that’s how he classified Coloring Book and its predecessors Acid Rap (2013) and 10 Day (2012). Fans were able to get their hands on all three totally free of charge, and that’s helped Chance grow a gigantic fan base that includes Barack Obama, who praised the MC in 2017 for “representing the kind of young people who come out of Chicago and change the world.” Although he’s avoided selling his music, Chance has earned so much money off touring and merchandise that he was able to donate $1 million to Chicago schools.