Tag Archives: hip-hop

Frank Ocean, “Chanel”

With last year’s release of Blonde, listeners found a liberated Frank Ocean flaunting his freedom from the constraints and demands of his record label, Def Jam. Under Def Jam’s supervision, Ocean’s openly bisexual status would only be hinted at on Channel Orange‘s “Thinkin’ of You” and a coming out letter on his Tumblr account. While writing Blonde, Ocean sought inspiration from his own turbulent past, with songs such as “Self Control,” and “Good Guy” allowing for a deeper self-expression of his bisexuality.

On his 2017 single, “Chanel,” Ocean continues to fuel the public’s perception of him as an ambassador for LGBTQ artistry within the relatively hostile domain of R&B and Hip-Hop. Ocean opens with the assertive declaration:”My guy pretty like a girl and he got fight stories to tell/ I see both sides like Chanel, I see on both sides like Chanel.” Later on, Ocean details an intimate encounter with another man, whose “straight-acting” persona soon gives way to a malleable, “dirty plastic” sense of identity. Both encounters highlight the dichotomies that have become a motif throughout  Ocean’s catalog; the allure of “Chanel” relies on such observations concerning the binaries inherent in his “post-breakout” experience: sexuality, gender norms, and status.

The musical arrangement of “Chanel” recalls the hazy, ambiguous production of Blonde, with programmed drums setting the pace for the slow piano progression, and vague synth leads that loop throughout the song. The subtle instrumentals, however, bow to Ocean’s rapping, which holds most of the song’s conflict and appeal. With its social commentary and avant-garde production, “Chanel” reflects the newfound artistic freedom of the

With its social commentary and avant-garde production, “Chanel” reflects the newfound artistic freedom of the Blonde sessions; Ocean’s empathetic confessionalism, however, hasn’t been lost in the experimentation, making for another raw hit that we’ve come to expect from him.

 

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Kanye West (featuring Paul McCartney), “Only One”

Kanye West’s new material recently made headlines after Seth Rogan revealed in a Rolling Stone interview that the Yeezus rapper rapped his entire follow-up album for the comedian from the backseat of a limo. After the opening lines of the album’s first single, however, any listener would question how well Kanye fared without his trusty Auto-tune.

Opening the new year with one of music’s most unexpected collaborations, Kanye West and Sir Paul McCartney have released, “Only One,”—a minimal ballad featuring McCartney on electronic keyboard and West on, well, Auto-tune. The track recalls 2008’s 808s & Heartbreak, an album inspired by his mother’s unexpected passing and a called off engagement with designer, Alexis Phifer. The single cover and handwritten lyrics posted to West’s official website suggests that the inspiration for this venture, however, is his one-year old daughter, North “Nori” West, with Kim Kardashian.

While the gesture is sweet, the track falls short of what most expect from a Kanye West lead single. While West’s work as a producer is nothing less than impeccable, he’s never been an impressive singer—a point the sensationalist “Only One” proves all too well. Let’s just hope that whatever West has planned for the follow-up to the critically-acclaimed, Yeezus, doesn’t turn out to be 808s & Heartbreak, Part 2.

Beyonce, “7/11”

Sure, I was excited to learn that Beyonce’s latest single shares its title with my birthday. Yes—Beyonce sold 828,773 copies in three days with no notice. Quantity, however, doesn’t always mean quality.

While Beyonce’s self-titled 5th LP may be the icon’s most impressive, if not definitive release to date, “7/11″—a track described as “R&B ratchet record similar towards ‘Partition,” —hardly carries the weight of ‘Yonce’s sexiest anthem to date.

Hyped through fake track-lists and insider comments, “7/11” is a minimalist trap cut that sounds more like an unfinished demo than a finished, radio-ready single. Rampant auto-tune, simple instrumentals, sloppy lyrics—all characteristics we’d never expect from a Beyonce release yet are plentiful in “7/11.” With so little to offer, the best feature of the song is the final segment which finds Ms. Carter playfully ad-libbing over a relatively lush pad vamp.

One viewing of the low-maintenance music video and anyone would conclude “7/11” is Beyonce’s attempt to let loose and play after a year of divorce rumors and back-to-back world tours. Still, fun and innovation—both of which “7/11” strives for yet falls short of—shouldn’t sound this forced. It’s hard to believe that “Partition” placed 10 spots lower than “7/11” on the Billboard Hot 100 yet became a viral phenom without the build-up.

I won’t lie: I don’t hate “7/11.” The track does, however, seem like a lazy, tired attempt from such the 21st century’s most elite diva. Beyonce’s latest single proves the hit-maker doesn’t need a reissue as much as a well-deserved break.

Azealia Banks, ‘Broke With Expensive Taste’

Azealia Banks fans have had to wait a few years for her debut LP, Broke with Expensive Taste, to finally hit shelves. After several delays, Bank’s first full-length release was dropped unannounced on November 6th. Banks’s last multi-track release was 2011’s 1991, which featured the lifted track, “212.” In the meantime, the 23-year-old became the Queen of Twitter feuds while hinting at collaborations with the likes of Lady Gaga, Kanye West, and Pharrell (the latter was eventually released in 2013), and pushed her 2012 mixtape, Fantasea.

As with any “post-Nicki” rapper, the comparisons with Minaj have become unavoidable. Both rappers attended Fiorello H. LaGuardia High SchoolMinaj was rejected by the Vocal Department but went on to the theater department. Banks seems to have followed the same route (although, tracks like “Nude Beach A-Go-Go” prove Banks probably could have been accepted into the rigorous department). Banks has also followed the “femcee” trend, delays aside.

Before listening to Broke, I must warn you: Banks is not a British rapper. The album itself is heavily influenced by UK Garage and house rap, with many of the tracks being prime candidates for any rave mix. “Luxury” and “BBD” in particular, blend trance with 808 trap samples. Still, one word sums up the Broke experience: Witch-hop.

“sonically, it’s very mature…I didn’t want to do anything that was like, young [or] mainstream. I stayed far away from dubstep, and I tried to stay far away from trap, but I have one trap record…everything on my album is going to be like, anti-pop, or just anti-what’s-happening-now.”

Meanwhile, cuts such as the catchy opener “Idle Delilah” and “Wallace” incorporate Latin kits and marimbas into Banks’s collection. While the relatively sluggish “Wallace” stagnates as album filler, “Idle Delilah” stands as one of Bank’s most relevant tracks —touching upon economic competition and suicide—despite it’s inspiration from a supposed 20th Century retaliation murder.

Besides “Idle Delilah” and 2011’s “212,” the majority of the album’s first half pales in comparison to its more experimental counterpart. One of the major pitfalls of Banks’s debut is her tendency to recycle identical rhythms on her rap tracks while overindulging in her “trademark” combination of mumbling and rapping. While Azealia Banks is no Mariah Carey—or Ariana Grande for that matter—it’s a refreshing change when Banks warms up her pipes as it shows a surprising versatility many listeners wouldn’t expect. “Chasing Time,” and the formidable, surf-rock jam “Nude-Beach-A-Go-Go” charts territory Banks’s fans have probably never explored. If surf-rock doesn’t work out, however, the irresistible “Soda” and aggressive “Luxury,” seem likely candidates for any club mix, offering a promising avenue into dance-floor diva-dom.

Such adaptability in genres, however, shouldn’t appear as promising career paths for when the monotonous rapping no longer works for Banks. Rather, such diversity only highlights an innate resourcefulness in Banks’ catalogue that makes her debut a much more rewarding listen than Minaj or Iggy Azalea who, quite frankly, should’ve thought twice before copping the name of a femcee who, despite sales, will most likely outlast her.