So I wanted to try something cool an integrate two worlds that don’t meet enough. Fine art and hip-hop. How you ever thought about what it would be like if your favorite rapper was a painter? It’s ok, I already thought about it for you. Now I am not a modern art expert but I do have a strong general kowledge. Here is it:
Kanye West=Jean-Michel Basquiat
Its an obvious correlation. They are both genius. Both grew up in middle class homes. And both rejected the notion of traditional education. The most striking similarity is how both express their creativity in previously unknown ways i.e. Kanye West’s 808’s and Heartbreak (2009). They are constantly being pressured to be creative and there is sometimes lack of acceptance and certainly the potential for Kanye to collapse under his genius. This is percisely what happened to Basquiat. Truly a gift and a curse.
Frank Ocean=Marcel Duchamp
Its not quite as easy for me to explain this one but Duchamp invented the concept of ready-mades, which is him making ordinary objects in art like an upside down urenal and bicycle wheel. Yes this is real. Frank has essentially done the same thing by taking pure human emotion and making it into art. He has illuminated the idea of being human (humanity) as beautiful.
Nude Deceasing a Staircase
The obvious connection is that both are the godfather’s of their respective realm. Kanye West & Pharrell Williams look to this guy as a mentor and they are each sold millions upon millions of records. While Cezanne of course mentored artist like Picasso & Matisse. Also Cezanne was an impressionist which, by definition, is someone who depicts life as it is. Jay-Z is the same way. His songs are about his life and the struggle of growing up in the projects in Brooklyn and now that he’s rich we get songs like “Niggaz in Paris”. Get it how you live…
The Card Players
to be continued…
They both sing (one more so than the other). Both are signed to major labels. Both are highly regarded in their own respective realms but Drake and Frank Ocean are two very different individuals.
But this is not about each artist. This is about their mixtapes.
For starters Frank Ocean’s 2011 release, “NostalgiaULTRA“, and Drake’s 2009 release, “So Far Gone”, were each the catalyst that catapulted each musician to relative prominence. Frank had previously released a 64-song mixtape and Drake had several projects before “So Far Gone” but there was something special about these ventures that was different.
I went into detail about “So Far Gone” in a previous post. Here.
What made each mixtape flourish is a similarity between the two. Each mixtape was within the avant-garde of that time. Before “So Far Gone” rappers weren’t singing their torribles away through sincere compositions that were almost monologue-like. The entire NostalgiaULTRA work is Frank Ocean’s most inner feelings on what it is like to be young, alone and heart broken in Southern California. See Frank Ocean’s American Wedding. Each artist seems so mortal, so human, so vulnerable which allowed listeners to really connect to something more basic. Hurt & struggle.
People being able to recognize the beauty in both of these works allows them to recognize the beauty in their own humanity.
The level of youth in both works is immense. These are works that could have only been created by kids under 23. Because they talk about the pressures of being young and in the industry and finding your place within it all and yet being able to maintain a normal life. Both have a particularly hard time doing it. Both are incredibly emotional unstable but they have both recognized it and are trying to improve themselves. See Houstatlantavegas.
SAMPLES. Sweet Baby Jesus.
It is wasn’t the innate authenticity that made these mixtapes then it was the diverse samples. From Frank Ocean, he used the Eagles, Coldplay and MGMT. From Drake, we can hear Santogold, The Isley Brothers and Lykke Li. They each brought in artist who are largely unknown to the typical hip-hop crowd.
There are differences:
Drake is hip-hop quite simply but don’t you dare call Frank Ocean R&B to his face. He’d probably bite your finger off. Frank has made it a point to say that he is not R&B. And if you listen to NostalgiaULTRA you might agree with his assertion. Listen to Strawberry Swing (which features a Coldplay sample) and one might think he’s soft rock. Listen to Novacane and one might think he’s a singing version of Jimi Hendrix. He’s pretty much everywhere. He bends genres not to say that Drake doesn’t. The guy did bring “good singing” to rap.
Finally and quite simply NostalgiaULTRA was just Frank. No features. Nothing. Just Frank singing and drinking his sorrows away. And exposing his humanity for the world to sympathize with and understand and connect to. So Far Gone was polluted with features which is cool but it can hold you back from reaching your deepest emotional depths.
Lastly NostalgiaULTRA gave me a sense of hope that So Far Gone did not. Drake exposed the problems of youth and living too fast but didn’t state a solution to it. Frankie did that. Listen to We All Try. (it’s okay to cry by the way)
I still believe in man. A wise one asked me why. Because I don’t believe we’re wicked. I know that we sin but I do believe we try.- Frank Ocean
So when it comes down to it. Frank Ocean wins this bout. I’m so proud of you, Frank.
Have you ever gone to a show just because a friend invited and you had no idea what you were seeing? But then you realize that you may have stumbled upon a jewel?
This very thing happened to me multiple times. My accidental discoveries include J. Cole, Matt & Kim, Wale, The Foreign Exchange and most recently Tokimonsta. I can’t even imagine my life without these artist.
Tokimonsta, for those who don’t know, is a southern Cali girl turned bomb DJ. And boy does she put on a show. Let’s just say I’d put my money on her before I would on Skrillex…yeah I said it!
She has expanded on her beauty and put skill behind it. She uses tracks ranging from Kanye West to the Weeknd to D’Angelo to Erykah Badu to create her mixes. Talk about variety.
What makes her so special is that she is genuinely good at what she does. There is no gimmick attracting people to her shows. There is no Tokimonsta bandwagon (though I wouldn’t mind personally starting it and yes I am taking shots a someone). The people patronizing her shows have recognized true talent. It takes major skill to get up there and match tempos, beats, bpm’s and smoothly blend/match songs together.
It gets better. Most importantly she uses loads of underground artist in her mixes. You are more likely to hear A$AP Rocky than Chris Brown in her tracks. She puts shine on artist who don’t have the backing of major labels for promotion. And then her original material….more visceral than pop. More hallucinogenic and natural than electronic.
There are certain things in life that make your heart beat and her music is one of them.
(you can take a listen here) Toki Sounds
From one BAB to another, I am truly proud. #teamtoki
Am I the only one that thinks Drake is absolutely everywhere?!
I mean he’s singing the hook on everyone’s songs. He just put out his album not too long ago and now he’s promoting his own artist (shoutout to the Weeknd) and he even his own clothing line.
“OVOXO ’til we overdose”, right?
It almost seems like he come out of nowhere overnight and blow up. But oh contrar my friend. For those of us who recall he actually began releasing music in 2006 and in 2007 he released a track with Trey Songz. But it wasn’t really until 2009 when he released his critically acclaimed EP “So Far Gone” that Drake became a household name.
The real question is though, what made this mixtape so different from all of his other previous releases? Well you know I have an answer. Quite simply it was the ambiance of the music.
The mixtape featured a dark, reflective, pensive and even romantic at times mood that has never been seen before within the realm of hip-hop. “So Far Gone” succeeded for the same reasons that Frank Ocean‘s “NostalgiaULTRA” (one of my personal favorites which I will expand on later and encourage you to download) has. Both mixtapes used very unique samples. Ranging from Santigold to Lykke Li, Kanye West, Jay-Z by way of the Isley Brothers and Peter Bjorn. When you listen to the collection of songs, one feels as if they have tapped into the mind of a young, eager man who is struggling to find his way amongst the lights and not get lost in the glitz.
And yes there are a lot of drug references…amongst the beautiful piano chords of course
The track that really propelled “So Far Gone” forward was “Best I Ever Had” which because the summer, ladies anthem of that year. Women finally got a chance to feel appreciated and not degraded. Gives me a warm, tingly feeling. That song provided a doorway for consumers to listen to the entire EP.
And then the ever obvious contribution that Drake’s “singing/rapping” provided. I can honestly say that I personally blame Drake for pushing the phenomena that is rappers singing…without autotone except he was actually good. What his singing added was a more vulnerable and emotional touch to things.
But his best lyrical performance yet is also here. He raps over Kanye West’s “Say You Will” beat on a track called “Say What’s Real” (a upcoming post will explain why these are his best bars in detail) but in short it is great because it is such an authentic monologue. You can listen here.
And it’s been beautiful for him ever since.
Finally Canada is actually good for something. Oh Canada…
Long Island City, Queens. The mecca of graffiti.
There has been an ongoing debate amongst J. Cole fans over which song features his greatest lyrical performance. I am here to bring it to an end. IMMEDIATELY.
The title track off of his debut album “Cole World: Sideline Story”.
Simply put “Sideline Story” (especially compunded with the interlude) details one of the greatest triumph stories in hip-hop. So to make it simple I’m going to use excerpts from the lyrics to make my case.
I put my heart and soul in this game, I’m feelin’ drained
Tired of comin’ up short, fuck abbreviated
Want my whole name spelled out, my own pain spilled out
He’s describing how he has put so much effort forth and yet it feels sometimes as if it is not going anywhere. And in regards to abbreviation, he is tired of people selling him short. He wants the full rights and privileges that he feels he deserves which are accolades, writing/production credit, etc. Already you can see that J. Cole expresses a certain level of humanity that many other rappers lack. He is not afraid to say that he feels cheated and you can feel this strong drive to succeed.
But homie if you change, man you change for the better
Back when Martin King had a thing for Coretta
Wonder if she seen all the dreams he was dreamin’
Did she have a clue of all the schemes he was schemin’
Still loved her just enough to put up with the cheatin’
Must go by and only see him for a weekend
I say a prayer, hope my girl ain’t leavin’
We all got angels, we all got demons
As you fall through the club
Bad bitches down to do all the above
Money comes fast so bein’ hungry don’t last
The reference to MLK and Coretta Scott King is experiencing the possibility that she tolerated his infidielities because she saw the bigger picture of “his dream”. He is applying that same idea to himself with the idea that his significant other will tolerant some of his actions because she sees the bigger picture. Not all of hip-hop is glitzy. There are pitfalls. Because although you may be tempted to live up to the image that “real rappers” are supposed to date multiple women but eventually that will get old and when you do commit there has to be ultimate trust that he will resist the perpetual temptation that is around him. He is once again highlighting the dycotomous relationship between J. Cole the rapper and Jermaine Cole the man.
Slang we be speakin’ probably soundin’ like Spanish
Then I fuck they heads up when a nigga show manners
Some New York niggas thought it was funny callin’ us Bamma
Laughin’ at the grammer cause they didn’t understand us
Must’ve thought they slow, but little do they know
I came up in here to take advantage of that shit ya’ll take for granted
Opportunity that I would kill for
Lookin’ at rappers like “what the fuck you got a deal for?!”
When I was assed out with my funds low
It’s nice to know I had the whole world at my front door
This verse literally changed my life. It’s beautiful isn’t it? (that was technically retorical but I hope you still said yes). It opitomizes everything that I feel as a southerner who came to NYC with the idea of being uber successful. When people initially meet him they may think that he lacks intelligence due to his accent but he’s that sneak attack everyone feared and no one expected. J. Cole has such determination that I can truly say that he has been an inspiration force in my own life. He and I share so many things one of them being the desire to succeed. His lyrics feature such urgency to receive it and his struggle to get there.
This is what makes him so special. Many other MCs are wearing million dollar diamond chains and driving Bogati’s and have stacks of money…in their first video. They make it seem as if they’ve always had it like that. J. Cole in his first video “Young Simba” has on a white t-shirt and jeans walking down an alley. He makes everything seem so achievable. If J Cole can do it then so can I. He is so honest, vulnerable and thus very human about his desires and end the end he is always so positive. He ends the song by saying that even at what some people would consider to be his lowest point, he still knew that there were infinite opportunities for success.
I love it. Case closed.
You can buy the album here: http://www.amazon.com/Cole-World-Sideline-Story-J/dp/B005C9WA20