A Tribe Called Quest hits the ground running on “The Space Program”

Try to resist it, but context is everything. When word filtered down the pipeline that A Tribe Called Quest, yes A Tribe Called Quest, was to release a new album after an 18 year absence, the music world rejoiced. In the midst of the most polarizing presidential campaign this generation, We got it from Here… Thank You 4 Your service was supposed to be the final death knell of racial intolerance, set to the backdrop of America rejecting a KKK-endorsed major party candidate.

After the mindfuck that was Tuesday night, A Tribe Called Quest’s new album found itself in a completely different context. A song such as “We the People,” for instance, is no longer a repudiation of fringe politics, but a polemic to official government policy. Opener  “The Space Program” isn’t the first step in mending a fragmented nation, but a forceful statement of resistance. The song is grounded in stark reality, where escapism is nil. “There ain’t a space program for niggas, You stuck here,” the group raps on the hook as the beat bounces with a vital optimism. “Got to get it together for brothers,” raps the late Phife Dawg a little further on. It was always an essential message, but made even more so in the context of the past week. Change always comes from the ground up, not from space down. And as Thank You 4 Your Service opens, A Tribe Called Quest shows they don’t need a space program to fly high.

Tinashe shows finesse on NIGHTRIDE highlight “Touch Pass”

Despite her official sophomore album being caught up in production hell, Tinashe satiated fans’ appetite this past weekend with Nightride, a mixtape that features previous purported Joyride cuts “Ride of Your Live” and “Company.” Among the highlights of the late night affair is the penultimate “Touch Pass,” featuring some sparkling keys and Tinashe’s featherweight falsetto. It’s perhaps the brightest moment on Nightride, a mixtape that is otherwise full of dark tones. While we await an official word on Joyride, “Touch Pass” is another fresh direction for the burgeoning singer. Wherever the ride takes us, we’ve got good company. Continue reading “Tinashe shows finesse on NIGHTRIDE highlight “Touch Pass””

Protest Songs of 2016

Politics and music are no strange bedfellows. Artists have fed off political discourse for years, from Public Enemy to Bruce Springsteen., Pussy Riot to NWA, from Aerosmith and Pearl Jam speaking out for gun control in the early 90s to Lady Gaga and Madonna’s gay rights anthems. All you really need to do is go back a year to when Kendrick Lamar released the album of the year, the politically charged To Pimp a Butterfly for the most timely example. But more artists have spoken out in 2016 than in previous years, whether on the presidential election or the Black Lives Matter movement or women’s rights. In these rocky times, musicians have used the climate for good, turning moments of crisis into moments of artistic beauty. Whether explicitly political such as YG’s “Police Get Away Wit Murder” or Empress Of’s “Woman Is a Word” to the sneakily political – such as Mitski’s “Your Best American Girl” – there has certainly been a soundtrack to whatever political or social frustration felt in a year filled with frustrating, anxiety-inducing moments. There are too many political songs from 2016 to post them all here – for more, take a look at Dave Eggers’ anti-Trump 30 Songs, 30 Days campaign – but these are some of the year’s most prominent politically charged songs. In case you needed one last reminder, please go out and vote this coming Tuesday. It’s our chance to show the world what we stand for. Continue reading “Protest Songs of 2016”

“Versace on the Floor” is peak Bruno Mars

It feels like Bruno Mars has spent his entire career trying to make a song like “Versace on the Floor.” The newest taste from 24K Magic is another in a long line of Bruno Mars slow jams, but whereas previous hits have been saccharine, there’s a sensuality to “Versace” that was lacking in those past hits. The song’s sparkling synths set the tone, and Mars delivers his best vocal performance in this type of setting. Case in point, not many artists could deliver a line such as, “I love that dress but you won’t need it no more” or “let’s just kiss till we’re naked” with a straight face, let alone without an audible groan from its audience. But Bruno Mars sells the song expertly, which isn’t necessarily a surprise – he’s become one of our better showmen – but is still refreshing. After all that practice, he’s perfected the art of the slow jam. That’s something to lift your lighter to. Continue reading ““Versace on the Floor” is peak Bruno Mars”

Alicia Keys is at her most present on HERE, the week’s best new album

For the past fifteen years, Alicia Keys has been a steady voice in music. While she reached her commercial peak on The Diary of Alicia Keys and As I Am, her album’s have always featured at least one defining anthem, from The Element of Freedom‘s “Un-Thinkable (I’m Ready)” or Girl On Fire‘s title-track. It was a little disappointing then, when her excellent early 2016 single “In Common” failed to launch, despite its tropical influence and smooth melody. Keys’ vocals were less show-stopping than lived in, a trait most of her bigger hits share. “If I Ain’t Got You” and “No One” wowed with Keys’ undeniable vocal force and restraint, while “In Common” featured a breathy, atmospheric performance. And while that song is absent from Here, released by Keys on November 4, it still informs what is her most cohesive, fluid album to date. Continue reading “Alicia Keys is at her most present on HERE, the week’s best new album”

Saba fulfills his potential on “Bucket List”

Saba is another in 2016’s long line of Chicago artists making transformative art, from Malcom London to Jamila Woods to Noname to Joey Purp to Chance The Rapper. It’s been fruitful year for Chicago’s music scene, and after landing a guest spot on Chance The Rapper’s “Angels,” Saba steps out on his own with Bucket List Project. One of the undeniable highlights is “Bucket List,” one of the most hook-filled tracks here and featuring a vocal assist from Lupe Fiasco affiliate Matthew Santos. Saba’s vocals land with an emphasis riding on every syllable, until the words themselves become a mantra. “I know the sun will come up anytime the rain go,” he promises before alluding to his Coloring Book collaboration. “Swear I must got angels,” he raps as he did on “Angels.” Turns out they’ve been following him ever since. Continue reading “Saba fulfills his potential on “Bucket List””