Editorial

“YO FAM, PEEP MY NEW MIXTAPE” and  My Hate/Love Relationship  With Writing Album Reviews

[Editors Note; this piece originally appeared on KC’s personal website. Original post is here.] “Why these pigeons look like they…

[Editors Note; this piece originally appeared on KC’s personal website. Original post is here.]

“Why these pigeons look like they ‘bout to drop the most fire album of 2014” is my favorite mixtape meme. There’s no shortage of them circulating out there. They crack me up, even when they probably shouldn’t.
“When your dad comes to career day and starts handing out mixtapes.”

“When your town is on fire but so is your mixtape.”

“When ya homie playing you his mixtape and you tryna act like he going in.”

“No, you can’t just write the link to your mixtape on the board.”

“It’s hip hop. You wouldn’t understand. Just take the f*cking picture, Hillary!”

THEY’RE ENDLESS. AND I LOVE THEM.

Can’t forget the headline, “McDonald’s Employee Fired For Placing His Mixtapes In Children’s Happy Meals.”

Real shit.

But on a serious note, and what I want to talk about in the first place, promoting one’s album/mixtape/soundcloud/new track/music video/etc. is a tricky beast of its own. It’s much like promotion of anything – it’s going to be annoying at some point. You have to do it. You can’t not. You created it, you own it, you must share it. The more creative and tactful you go about it, the better. But, it is what it is. The line between shameless self-promotion and promotion is fine and we all cross it.

I’m annoying. I rep my personal ‘brand’ and what I do hard. In this regard, writers are the same as artists, rappers, producers, DJs. I take what I do very seriously. I expect those with passion to do the same. ‘Yo fam peep my mixtape’ applies, but with my writing. I want you to read what I wrote, period. You’ll make my day with the words “I read your article,” on any given day, I promise.

When someone asks me if they can send me their album, majority of the time, I welcome it with excitement. I know many writers who don’t. When someone asks me if they can send me their album EARLY, I respect that they get it and that they respect that the best music writing takes time.

As a writer on a local level, in Albany, I was overwhelmed in the beginning by album review writing, because I knew that once I reviewed one, I’d have to review them all. I quickly got over it because I realized the importance of an album review for an independent artist in a small music scene. Sometimes my review was the only one.

There were times when I had to say no, and there were times where I missed opportunities for one reason or another. Regardless of my involvement in my hometown’s music scene, to this day, getting an album sent to me early is my version of Christmas and I don’t think after 8 years of that feeling, it will change anytime soon. Thank you music friends for understanding and honoring that when possible. It all comes down to this: 

I need to listen to your shit many, many times before I can touch my pen down.

It has been my integrity as a listener, a fan and a writer that if someone can spend a year creating their album, I can listen for a week straight or more. More time spent with it, the better. I want to listen to your music when I drive, when I shower, when I read, when I get ready for work, when I’m drinking a beer.

I’ve always felt that this dedication to actually listening has separated me from the demand of the industry – people want NEW music ASAP, along with reviews. I feel like a good chunk of blogs only care about what’s new, what’s selling, what people are talking about in that moment. I get it. My favorite days in my music writing career are when I finish my writing before, or on, the release date. I always feel like I win the round when I am prepared and can offer my written word in conjunction with a release and with other blogs and iTunes. I want to ride the share wave with the artist and with the audience. When the new Drake and Future mixtape drops, I want to talk about it just like every other music blogger on every blog ever. I wonder what gives me the credentials to do so, but this is another topic for another day.

I believe that album reviews are a necessary evil of music journalism.

In reality, for every piece of music released that gets any airtime online, there is at least one album review to match the music embed. The larger the album, the larger the quantity of words written and dedicated. Math. Science. Culture. An album review is an integral part of the process. But that doesn’t mean we, as writers, always enjoy them. They almost exist because they have to. They are part of the promotion, and maybe part of the problem. 

I always get so curious – who is reading album reviews? As a music journalist, they are an inevitable practice in my craft. Ironically, my favorite music journalists don’t really “do” them, or don’t do them often. #Goals

I think this is because, by nature, album reviews are formulaic and can be stale. Mainstream media, and even my approach to writing a review, follows a formula on how to break it down. It often includes a numeric score, especially on the larger websites. That is my least favorite part, because there are as many opinions as there are listeners.

Often, we can agree on what is good and what is terrible, especially given a certain genre that is in our preference. But in order to separate a good album from a great album, it’s so subjective, I find it stupid to put a 7.5 out there when someone else would give it an 8. Who cares? People want a perfect 10 when they love it or 1 star when they hate it. To me, music is so much more complicated than that and an album review simplifies it and puts it into a categorical review. Album reviews help an album in the game of survival of the fittest, in terms of charts, blogs, sales, exposure, etc. and that is why they exist. But it doesn’t make them any less annoying to write at times.

Don’t get me wrong, an album review has been an important exercise to me over the past 8 years, and each one a unique challenge. One of my first pieces ever in 2007 was an album review. It’s hilarious to read now, but album reviews are just as much a part of what I do now as they were then when I was just starting to sharpen my swords. What I wrote then is way different than what I would write now, but the task is still the same. 

At this point, I know how I personally approach writing a music review when I do my thing. I often find myself only writing about the music I actually love, because why waste time tearing apart something I’m not going to listen to again? I’m not a hater. I’m not about being negative in my writing. If I don’t like it, I most likely won’t write about it at this stage in my career. Let the silence of a music writer haunt you and your album. (Half kidding). I want to be critical but dish compliments when they are deserved. That’s just me. 

I want each piece I write to be different and insightful. I often find that album reviews are stale, boring and forced because they exist out of necessity to assist with exposure and give validation.

How can we make album reviews hold more value? This is my biggest question for music journalism right now, in this moment, and maybe that’s because this year has produced so much quality hip hop, for example. I basically stopped reviewing albums because I didn’t feel “caught up” and I’m perfectly fine with that. I welcome this break.

While I have a hate/love relationship with writing album reviews and what we get out of them from all perspectives, I write about the music I like because I want to help celebrate it. I’m also okay with being the softest music writer in the game, too. 

My name is KC Orcutt, and I’ve now been writing for an Internet-specific audience for more than half my life. Growing up in Upstate NY, I recently relocated to Los Angeles, where I aim to expand my writing career, meet as many interesting people as possible and never forget that the beach is a 20 minute drive away. My work has appeared on a handful of publications, including Beatport News, 12ozProphet, Brooklyn Street Art, Music Times and Keep Albany Boring. I am an enthusiast of happy hour, getting out of the house, supporting my friends’ creative endeavors and listening to the same five songs a dozen times in a row - if they bang.
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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.”

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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.

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“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.

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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.

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