Editorial

The Outsider Perspective: A Take On Anthony Fantano’s ‘Damn.’ Review

I couldn’t finish watching it. I admit I tripped, but hear me out, though. Around the four minute mark of…

I couldn’t finish watching it. I admit I tripped, but hear me out, though.

Around the four minute mark of The Needle Drop’s review of “.DAMN”, Anthony Fantano starts speaking on The Biblical influence on Kendrick’s controversial, yet acclaimed THIRD (clears throat) studio release. He started off subtly, but as every second passed, the condescension in his voice became a little more evident. This revealed what I all but figured by around the 8:30-minute mark, where he claims to view the premise for both “Yah” and “Cousin Carl’s interlude” (at the end of “Fear”) to be “Bullshit and stupid.”

It seemed to have struck to have struck a nerve with him. As an avid viewer of The Needle Drop, I’m aware of Fantano’s ability to articulate things he doesn’t like. “Bullshit and stupid” seemed a little immature. He damn sure struck a nerve with me.

Don’t get me wrong; I’ve heard this argument before. Not over the internet. I have friends that are Pan African, Muslim, Atheist, and so forth who all love the album (for the most part) but hate the premise behind it.

We’ve talked to and at each other. Face to face. Not over the internet. Conversations would go from direct eye contact to eyes rolling, or shooting away when triggers were uttered. These were the kind of dialogues that art is meant to spark. Uncomfortable, yet there was an earnest desire for understanding on both parts.

Why? Because as people of color, raised in an oppressive system, my contemporaries and I have grown to value each other’s perspective as a means to come to a collective conclusion to problems we face in real time. In real life. Not over the internet. We live the effects of “mass genocide, slavery, Jim Crow…” things Fantano was listing like he was being quizzed  in school are real things to and for us. Not once in any of those conversations was anybody’s opinion labeled “bullshit” or “stupid.” There’s just too much at stake.

Maybe Fantano would have benefited from reading The “Black Art, White Voice” piece on DJBooth that dropped after his review. In it, Cassidy Kakin writes a heartfelt piece about understanding his place in Hip-Hop as a White writer. He speaks on the understanding that he will never fully “get it” because his connection to the conditions that lead rappers to create their works ends just as soon as he takes his headphones off.

“DAMN.” is Kendrick trying to make sense of the injustices he and, ultimately we face using his faith. Fantano ridiculing that for ANY reason does reek of White privilege, slightly. Is it so far off to believe we’re under a curse? Fantano’s last name can easily trace his heritage. How many Africans do you think were named Duckworth? Or Jones? Or Smith? We carry the names of our slave masters. There are generations of connections that have been lost, never to be connected until the afterlife. Can Fantano say in confidence that these ills, ills which were created by people who look like him, are “political, social, and economic”? But still, there’s another problem at hand, one that would shake the internet to its core if ever addressed. Does a critic’s opinion even matter if they aren’t the intended audience?

The insensitivity in which Fantano addresses Kendrick’s view is pompous, which is only offensive because I doubt Kendrick was thinking of him or people who think like him during this album’s conception. Fantano admits that these are personal feelings and that they don’t affect his opinion on the art itself — but by that time the damage is done.

Let’s say I was doing a review of Macklemore’s 2013 song “Same Love” from the ‘Great Escape’ album. You know, the one that infamously beat out Kendrick for a Grammy? If I started the review by saying “Personally, I believe homosexuality is wrong” the rest of my review would probably be null because I disagreed with the entire basis which brought the song to be. At that point, would my opinion matter much?

Then again, there were art critics who only talked about Basquiat’s technical ability (or lack thereof), completely unable to dig into the depths of his work. Maybe this is also a product of art. Logic said great art is divisive. Maybe — just maybe — great art gives an outsider enough insight to feel as if there an insider, even if only for an hour. Fantano continued to give the album a decent review.

I had to come back and watch it a second time. All is well, as the numbers and praise probably rang too loud for Kendrick to notice the review, but I did. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a fan of Fantano’s work. I just hope that for future reference, he considers how limited his vantage point is while reviewing Black art. Anybody, for that matter; just know when the shoe doesn’t fit and be gracious enough to let somebody else try it on for size.

Malachi Jones hails from your deep subconscious fear of an educated Black man... and Mobile, Alabama. I love hip-hop, hence why I write about it.
Related Articles
#FireFriday, Editorial, interview

Famous Dex Talks New Album & Dual Identities In Exclusive Interview

“I didn’t [really] just discover them, it’s always been like that.”

Coated in Diamonds, with a Gucci bag draped at his hip, Chicago rapper Famous Dex took the stage in a black werewolf T-shirt at New York’s Gold Bar on March 27 to premiere his new album Dex Vs. Dexter, and to receive a gold certification plaque for his bouncy track “Pick It Up” with A$AP Rocky. The album, while still flux in braggadocio lyrics, demonstrates creative growth for the rapper. Released on April 6th, the date was personally chosen by Dex to coincide with the three year anniversary of his mother’s passing from breast cancer. “It’s influenced my hustle. Everything I do now has a greater purpose because of her,” Dex told Above Average Hip-Hop. “The decisions I make with my family and my career, I always consider what she would tell me.”

The project’s theme of separate entities, while not a foreign concept in Hip-Hop, paints the audacious artist as someone more than how he appears to fans. “I didn’t [really] just discover them, it’s always been like that,” the artist said of his two identities. “Dex is the romantic guy,” he said with a laugh, “Dex is single, well both Dex and Dexter are single, but Dex loves women, chilling, vibing, [and] not doing too much. Sometimes people see me on a video, and I’m really laid back, that’s Dex.” In contrast, ‘Dexter’ is the artist everyone is familiar with. “He’s a clown, wild, crazy with ad-libs and everything. Dexter is who most people know in my music.” The two characters are fully realized on the albums cover art, with “Dex” sprawled on a green leather couch with a girl on his lap, while “Dexter” zooms around the couch in an animated form.

 
In contrast to Dex’s previous work, the rapper’s official debut is heavy on pop influences. The hook on “Prove It,” is layered in a pop-rock guitar riff and steady 808 drums. “Take this ride with me, sip this Hennessy, I got bands on me…Ooh girl you so sweet,” Dex sings in the third verse. Another drastic musical departure for the mumble rapper comes in the form of “LIGHT,” a radio-ready single featuring pop-rock quartet Drax Project. “Aw man, Drax! I love those guys,” Dex said of working with the band. “It just happened, I don’t know exactly how it happened, but I’m not going to question God because it’s dope! I’ve never made a song like that before.” Dex sings on the track alongside the group, his gooey auto-tuned vocals harmonizing with Drax.

However, Dex still makes room on his debut to tackle familiar territory. “LIGHT” is followed by “Celine,” a barely-two-minute bouncy interlude that finds the rapper reassuring his fans not everything has changed. “My favorite track to get hype to is ‘Celine.’ That song is fire,” Dex said. “It’s so natural to me, and I love to perform it.” Other tracks like the lead single “Japan,” “Take Her” with Wiz Khalifa and the album’s intro “DMD” find Dex in his comfort zone as he tackles beats by Pi’erre Bourne and J Gramm, among others. “This whole album is a celebration,” Dex said. Even with a new album just released, Dex is already planning his next steps. “I’m already working on my next album, Rich Forever got something fire coming out soon, so be on the lookout for that.”

Continue Reading
Editorial, Main

A Beginner’s Guide to Ski Mask the Slump God

Talent is not always exciting. There are a myriad of artists in the mainstream as well as the underground with…

Talent is not always exciting. There are a myriad of artists in the mainstream as well as the underground with plenty of talent who don’t excite. Although Adele and Michael Buble can sing like nobody’s business, I am not particularly interested in either of them. That is not intended to be shade; that style of music, impressive as it is, just does not do it for me.

And then there is Ski Mask the Slump God. The 21-year-old South Florida rapper has talent coming out of his nose and he is, at the moment, one of the most exciting artists coming up in hip-hop. Known for his fast, wild flows and idiosyncratic personality, Ski started uploading his music online in 2015 and officially blew up last year with the releases of a four-track EP titled Slaps for My Drop-Top Minivan and his debut mixtape, You Will Regret.

In December, he teased fans with the tracklist and features for his next project, Beware the Book of Eli. With production by Timbaland on several tracks and guest appearances from Rich the Kid, Lil Yachty, Offset, and Busta Rhymes, it’s bound to be dope. Unfortunately, the tape has been delayed while the samples, one of which is the Boy Meets World theme song, get cleared. In the meantime, here are six Ski Mask tracks to get you up to speed.

“Rambo.”

The opening track on You Will Regret. This Phosphate beat features simple yet almost frightening keys and subtle record scratches over deep bass. In a way that reminds me of Rihanna’s “Work,” Ski’s words bleed together on a hook with a super catchy melody. The sole verse on the not-quite-two-minutes-long track is rapid, tight, funny, and precise. “No Hannah Montana, but bitch I look pretty on camera.”

 

“Bird is the Word.”

In a rare instance of a Soundcloud rapper pushing four minutes, Ski lethargically flips the bird to the police on a hook that is repetitive and mind-numbing in the best way. At the beginning of the track, his presence is announced by some sort of horn as if he is royalty. The most impressive aspect of this song, and others I will mention, is his ability to seamlessly alternate the speed of his flows. “I just want a cracker like a parrot named Polly.”

 

“BabyWipe.”

Produced by CashMoneyAP, this track is anchored by a snappy, funny hook that perfectly captures Ski’s electrifying personality. Once again, with unmatched finesse, he manages to completely switch up his flows halfway through both verses without a hint of awkwardness. On top of that, he drops some of the strongest bars on You Will Regret. “How is you feeling, vro? / Feeling like the four, bitch I feel fantastic / Which one would you be, though? / Mr. Fantastic cause the money like elastic.”

 

“Catch Me Outside.”

On his biggest hit to date, Ski raps over the Timbaland instrumental from Missy Elliot’s “She’s a Bitch” and shouts out Blue’s Clues on an undeniable pop hook. The shoutouts extend past the chorus, too; the verses are full of clever pop culture references to throwback figures including Garfield and Bow Wow’s character in Like Mike. “Put my sauce on lasagna, it could make Garfield purr.”

 

“With Vengeance” featuring Offset.

Another Timbaland joint, this is the first teaser track from Beware the Book of Eli and it brings a welcome change of pace. Ski momentarily drops the colorful, playful persona and raps with a deeply predatory tone. Offset steals the show with a chilling and energized guest verse that I wish we had seen more of on Culture II. “Snake venom vocals, flow got sicker / Sharper than sabers made straight from Darth Vader.”

 

“Wassup Wit the Bag” with Lar$$en and Jay Critch.

Although this is technically Lar$$en’s song, Ski and Jay unambiguously take over. I can say with confidence that this is the best banger you haven’t heard yet. Jamz’ beat, anchored by violins, is stupid fire. Ski goes full-blown ballistic on the hook and Jay snaps on his verse. “I just ate Mr. Krabs with some damn tartar sauce.”

 

I understand why many hip-hop fans are turned off by the Soundcloud wave. It is no secret that most of these guys have no interest in lyricism. In fact, from a technical perspective, some of them are simply not that good at rapping. However, I must emphasize that Ski Mask is different. He raps with skill, diversity, humor, and intelligence like not many others. I have yet to hear a song by him that did not have replay value. He is a rare and extremely young talent with enormous potential. Get on board as soon as you can.

Continue Reading
Editorial, Main

“Flower Boy” Should Have Won Best Rap Album

Allow me to begin with the obvious: I have nothing but love for K. Dot and I cannot think of…

Allow me to begin with the obvious: I have nothing but love for K. Dot and I cannot think of anyone in mainstream hip-hop who deserves more respect than he does. Overly Dedicated and Section.80 are criminally underrated projects. good kid, M.A.A.D. city is a triumphant work of conceptual art. I do not think it is out of line to declare To Pimp A Butterfly one of the top 20 albums of the last decade. Most recently, DAMN. earned Kendrick Grammy nods for, among other categories, Best Rap Album and Album of the Year. He won the former and, in a sad yet unsurprising turn of events, Bruno Mars took home the latter.

Now, to be clear, I love DAMN. I think it includes some of Kendrick’s most brilliant material to date: “DNA.,” “ELEMENT.,” “FEEL.,” “FEAR.,” “DUCKWORTH.,” and the first two and a half minutes of “XXX.” (I hit skip as soon as I hear Bono’s voice). Unfortunately, I think it also includes some of Kendrick’s weakest material to date, namely “LOYALTY.” featuring Rihanna and “LOVE.” featuring Zacari. Alternatively, the album that I think should have earned the honor of Best Rap Album, Tyler, the Creator’s Flower Boy, is just about flawless.

The hype for the Odd Future founder’s fifth full-length project began when he dropped arguably his two best singles to date: “Who Dat Boy” featuring A$AP Rocky and “911/Mr. Lonely” featuring Frank Ocean and Steve Lacy. The former is an outlandish banger anchored by a cinematic string section and Tyler’s incredible charisma. The second track rides a funky, soulful instrumental and showcases a vulnerable Tyler as he addresses the extreme loneliness with which he has struggled since achieving superstar fame. From an instrumental perspective, the third Flower Boy single, “Boredom,” is Tyler’s masterpiece. The chugging drums, melancholy keys, and blissful violins that conclude the track put Tyler’s genius on full display. The fourth and final hype track, “I Ain’t Got Time,” is a hand-clapped, throttling solo effort which reminds the listener that Tyler truly operates in his own lane.

 

As much as I love these four singles, the remainder of Flower Boy is far from filler. The opening track, “Foreword,” sets the tone for the album with some of the strongest bars Tyler has dropped in his career: “How many cars can I buy until I run out of drive? / How much drive can I have until I run out of road? / How much road can they pave until I run out of land? / How much land can it be until I run in the ocean?” With guest vocals from Kali Uchis, “See You Again” is a masterfully layered track which features gorgeous harmonies and one of the best rap flows in Tyler’s catalogue. Perhaps the most discussed song in the tracklist, “Garden Shed” is a delicate, confessional ballad on which Tyler solemnly addresses his deepest insecurities.

I could go on and on about all fourteen tracks on Flower Boy, but I think you get the point. It is a revealing and sonically diverse exploration of fame, depression, and identity that demonstrates Tyler, the Creator’s immense talents as a rapper, songwriter, and producer. It is a landmark in both a career and a life, and it is better than DAMN.

Continue Reading
Editorial, Main

I Am Not Here For a Joey/XXX Collab

On Saturday, January 20, 19-year-old singer and rapper XXXTENTACION posted an Instagram story in which he proposed a collaborative mixtape…

On Saturday, January 20, 19-year-old singer and rapper XXXTENTACION posted an Instagram story in which he proposed a collaborative mixtape with Brooklyn rapper and PRO ERA founder Joey Bada$$. Joey subsequently posted a screenshot of X’s story and added: “Let’s go @xxxtentacion.” There is no further indication that the project is in the works as of now.

I Am Not Here For a Joey/XXX Collab

I Am Not Here For a Joey/XXX Collab

In 2016, X was arrested on charges of domestic abuse against his pregnant girlfriend as well as accusations of witness-tampering. Although his trial was initially scheduled for May 2017, it was delayed until October. On September 8, Pitchfork published the details of the victim’s testimony against X, to which I will return later.

After another delay of the trial until December 2017, X was charged with eight more felony counts of witness-tampering based on recovered phone messages. After spending several days in jail without bail, he was released for two months of house arrest. He will appear in court again on Wednesday, January 24.

I have never had a more difficult time reading an article than I did when I first read the details of the victim’s testimony. The abuse X inflicted upon this woman was evil, disgusting, and, at some points, downright terrifying. Her story depicts a life of constant fear that this hostile and violent man may snap at any moment for no apparent reason. He is a despicable monster who deserves a life sentence in prison, and I cannot fathom why anybody would continue to support his career. If you are a fan of XXXTENTACION, I implore you to read the Pitchfork article and re-evaluate whether or not you want to put money in this man’s wallet.

To say that I am disappointed in Joey is an understatement. Having followed his mixtapes and singles in the build-up to his full-length debut, B4DA$$, I am confident that he is one of the first hip-hop artists I genuinely loved. His follow-up project, All-AmeriKKKan Badass, one of the best hip-hop albums of 2017, solidified Joey as one of the premiere conscious rappers in the mainstream at the remarkably young age of 22 years old.

To see him grow from the fun-loving kid rapping with his friends on “School High” to the mature man lamenting the evils of institutional racism on “TEMPTATION” has been one of the most gratifying experiences of my musical fandom. Pride is not an emotion I frequently feel when I listen to music. When I first spun “LAND OF THE FREE” last year, I felt proud of Joey Bada$$.

Will morbid curiosity get the best of me and compel me to listen to this collaboration? Yes. Will I continue to be a Joey fan if he goes through with this collaboration? Yes. Will I lose some respect for an artist I have admired since high school? Yes.

Please, Joey. Listen to your fans. Do not collaborate with this terrible human being. You’re better than that.

Continue Reading
More in Editorial
Juice Hip Hop Exhibition Comes To The Garden State

On April 1, 2017 all aspects of Hip-Hop collided within the Juice Cathedral walls of Jersey City, New Jersey. A...

Close