10 Albums I Slept On in 2017

 

In 2017, I received more music submissions than I ever have before. And I’ll be the first to admit it: last year I didn’t always do the best job of covering all of the amazing albums that landed in my inbox, so much good music dropped that I straight up slept on a handful of amazing projects that I would have written full reviews for if I had the time.

If you’re one of the hundreds of rappers I left on read last year, don’t take it personally, I didn’t even review my roommates’ debut album (my take today: it was hot.) And in making this list, I’m fully aware of the irony that I’m still sleeping on thousands of worthy projects.

In the spirit of shining light on a small
slice of the music you might be missing, here are ten of the best albums from 2017 that I should have given more attention to and given the respect of a full album review. Don’t sleep on these projects like I did.

1. Raekwon – The Wild

Raekwon’s 2017 release The Wild was so good, my boss at DJBooth did something he very rarely does: Z hit up the group chat directly, and called us all out for sleepin on the Chef. That legendary Booth Slack is so packed with debauchery and intrigue but I sadly can’t reveal much, the Illuminati don’t take kindly to that sort of behavior. Z’s message got lost like many things do and I didn’t give The Wild the deep listen it deserved until several months after its release.

Watch your step when you push play on The Wildif you aren’t careful you’ll trip and fall and wake up somewhere in the early 1990’s in a rainy corner of the Five Burroughs, caught in a low-lit noir-styled comic-book panel straight from the peak of the Reign of the Wu. Describing the 2017 offering of a great like Rae as “vintage form” is beyond played out, and in truth Raekwon hasn’t been hit with the curse many of his friends have and hasn’t ever dropped a skippable album. And the Wu invented this shit. The Wild is Grimy New York City done right; there’s nothing that gets the blood pumping like watching a hall of famer hit a home run deep into the stands, and Raekwon’s latest is 1968 Mickey Mantle.

2. Wiki – No Mountains in Manhattan

One of my favorite music writers ranks Wiki’s talent level somewhere between Pablo Picasso and Jesus Christ, and she’s the same genius who converted me to the church of Brockhampton so I clearly should have been more eager for No Mountains in Manhattan. Take this as a public apology: especially to @DonnaCWrites, fuck, I am genuinely sorry that it took me so long to get on the Wiki train.

When I finally picked up No Mountains in Manhattanit became a favorite instantly. “Mayor” is so delightfully optimistic in its intricately crescendoing arrangements and simple bouncing rhythms, Wiki so deftly skilled and perfectly at home rapping in his effortless state of natural excellence, the track rings as a victory lap even if this is your first time encountering the piece of shit that is Patrick Morales. Front to back, No Mountains in Manhattan is the kind of polished portrait that made many of us fall in love with hip-hop in the first place. Wiki has been dropping quality music for years, but if you’ve been a casual fan until this point like I have, his 2017 opus should bump Wik to the top of your list of people to pay very close attention to.

3. Sahtyre – Cassidy Howell

I’ve been a fan of Sahtyre for years, he’s been flexing a unique style and subtle LSD soaked genius since long before his early TeamBackPack cyphers. But sometimes life gets fast and our consumption of new music gets slow, I was working on way too many things when Cassidy Howell dropped and despite the fact that I loved every single and had been waiting for this one for a minute, Sahtyre’s latest release sat on my “to listen to” list for a few weeks before I dove in. Dive with me, the waters of Cassidy Howell are so reflective they’re sometimes downright fucking scary, but Saht’s latest is well worth the swim.

Cassidy Howell is at once more focused and more eclectic than any of Sahtyre’s previous work; the songwriting and lyricism throughout are on point as always, and huge melodic and stylistic risks like the Chase Moore produced “Visualize” pay off well for the Los Angeles based rock star in the making. Bar-heavy offerings like the irresistible one-scheme based “Grammy” give listeners plenty of density to return to and dissect, but again it’s Sahtyre’s unique style and energy that make the project can’t-miss California hip-hop.

4. Vantablac Sol – Vbs Tape

Sometimes, when you see an act live rocking their music to a crowd in the right room with the right mix of kush smoke and destiny lingering in the air, the stars just align and something magic happens. I first caught Vantablac Sol in Santa Cruz on tour with The Palmer Squares earlier this year, and I had that “a-ha” moment that turns you into a fan for life. Vantablac’s got the magic, his 2017 Vbs Tape shines like Acid Rap and Nostalgia Ultra, lightning in a bottle with a side of inevitability.

It’s a rare few MCs who are able to capture their whole personality when they hit the booth; on Vbs Tape Vantablac Sol raps with so much cool and restrained charisma, his voice takes on a constantly morphing instrumental quality that perfectly reflects a kaleidoscopic character. “Wait” is a hit with a chorus stickier than spilled apple juice, “Protégé” is equal parts low-key anthem and heartfelt reflection, “Stir The Pot” has more swagger than if 2006 Yeezy was elected Prom King. Chicago is positively overflowing with talent, but on stage and on Vbs Tape, Vantablac Sol carries himself with the presence of a king amongst kings, future Chitown royalty in the making.

5. Chris Rivers – Delorean

I listened to this album dozens of times before interviewing Chris Rivers earlier this year, but I was so invested in thinking about the music in the context of Chris’s story that I never sat down and dissected the plentiful bars in Delorean with the critical and analytic ear I should have. If you’ve heard Chris Rivers‘ music before, you know that I made a huge mistake; not every lyric stands up when picked apart, Delorean is overflowing with lyricism that begs to be looked at under a microscope.

Approach Delorean as a whole, without going full rap-nerd on every stanza of every track, and Chris Rivers’ 2017 album represents a lot more than the sum of its parts. For an undeniably talented young artist who has been rapping circles around his peers since he was a teen, Delorean showcases Rivers’ melodic soul driven songwriting (“Chris Time Zone,””Fear of my Crown.”) For an underground king who has already conquered every cypher and received love from countless legends, Delorean demonstrates Rivers’ acute awareness of what it takes to make music that can land with a young and widespread audience (“Delorean,” “Bag.”) It’s a matter of when Rivers cements his name in the history books at this point, not if, sleep on Delorean and you’re snoozing on a slice of future hip-hop heritage.

6. J.Lately – Be Fucking Happy

J.Lately is no newcomer to the DIY rapper grind, but 2017 saw years of hard work paying off in whole new ways for the Bay Area native. National touring and a handful of hot singles helped J.Lately cement his place as one of the preeminent indie voices in the Bay scene, and the California rapper’s easy-going laid-back storytelling driven music evolved to groovy new heights with the release of Be Fucking Happy. Named by Bandcamp as one of the “Five Artists Who Are Keeping Bay Area Hip-Hop Strong,” J.Lately’s strong year is thanks first and foremost to a strong album.

Be Fucking Happy is a contradiction-laden phrase we’ve probably all uttered to ourselves at some point, frustrated by anxieties or caught with the blues when a moment calls for celebration. Throughout his 2017 album, J.Lately extrapolates on these types of simple and profound moments and feelings we can all relate to, crafting a unique narrative fabric that’s as familiar as it is singular to Lately’s perspective.

7. Caleborate – Real Person

By the time my roommate asked me “have you heard this new album from this kid Caleborate yet?” I’d been seeing the Bay Area artist’s name everywhere for weeks. Usually when I skip a link it’s because I’m nervous there’s trash music waiting on the other side of that click, after seeing so many cosigns from people I trust I knew I’d love Real Person as soon as I had time for it, but for whatever reason it took me way to long to give Caleborate his due.

Contemporary music from the Bay is known for its varied sound, with so many artists in so many lanes asserting their artistic vision that there’s no real unified front. But even with all of that history of experimentation in the region, Caleborate touches on something completely new and fresh on his 2017 release Real Person. He’s undoubtedly going to reach new heights in the new year, and indie artists are all going to pick apart Caleborate’s business moves and try to discern the formula. But there’s no secrets about the most important ingredient in the mix, that factor that makes Real Person a beautiful album and Caleborate a future star is artistic authenticity and a commitment to genuine expression.

8. Trippie Redd – A Love Letter To You

I thought I knew what Trippie Redd would sound like before spinning his 2017 releases, but unlike the salty “mumble-rap” bashing traditionalists who might overlook the Ohio born artist due to his association with the bubbling xanax-fueled rockstar aesthetic, I actually love Uzi and 21 Savage and plenty of the “new wave” that people shit on. I just wasn’t ready for another artist in that vein, and put off Trippie Redd as a result of over-saturation from what many consider his peers. I made the same mistake with Travis Scott; Trippie Redd’s sound is so much more evolved than I expected and more refined to his vision than just about anyone making similar music. Leaving him on the shelf because your sick of Uzi or Quavo is a rookie mistake.

I felt the same emotion and dark intensity from Trippie Redd’s A Love Letter To You that washed over me when I first heard The Weeknd’s original tapes. That same raw pain and brazen vulnerability that made Abel a star will serve Trippie Redd well in the future, and it’ll be fascinating to watch the evolution that occurred between A Love Letter To You and A Love Letter To You 2 continue as this young genius sets his sights on domination.

9. UnLearn The World – iSaint iSinner iSelf

There are very few people I cheer for louder than UnLearn The World; the Bay Area god demands enthusiasm from any audience as soon as he touches a mic. But again, life got in the way, and I didn’t ever write a full review of UnLearn’s 2017 album iSaint iSinner iSelfUnLearn scares every MC in every room he sets foot in, so some part of my hip-hop psyche may have just been straight-up intimidated by the caliber of the rapping on display here, my pen running dry at the thought of the immense task of writing something good enough to show respect to one of the most important artists of my 2017.

iSaint iSinner iSelf speaks on UnLearn The World better than I ever could, with enough potent lyricism and head-knocking hip-hop to convert any doubters. The San Francisco based rapper’s sound is heavily influenced by New York City, but iSaint iSinner iSelf pays tribute to time over place, tapping into the traditional soul and power of hip-hop music that’s been watered down in our current commercialized music culture. If you’ve ever found yourself missing the warmth and strength you could find so much more readily in hip-hop’s Golden Age, iSaint iSinner iSelf will bring you back to your happy place.

10. Sareem Poems & Tarem – A Pond Apart

No matter how tapped in you think you are and how much you think you know about the modern underground scene, there’s always going to be that one artist who has always been around that you stumble on for the first time who makes you wonder if you really know anything about anything. Sareem Poems was that rapper for me in 2017, when I first heard his collaborative album “A Pond Apart” with producer Tarem I just about threw my laptop in the sink and gave up on my calling to know all of the best music currently being made in the world.

Sareem Poems brings such a flawless A-Game throughout “A Pond Apart” that in any other era he would have been lighting up score boards; if rap were a meritocracy this album would have earned it’s spot on tons of Year End lists and Illect Records would be charting next to the Drakes and Rihiannas of the world. But in our over-saturated digital landscape, even an album as powerful as this one can fly under the radar. In doing so, “A Pond Apart” illustrates everything that’s invaluable and worth our time in the underground: this project is hip-hop of the highest caliber, sleep on “A Pond Apart” like I initially did and you might be missing out on a future favorite just because a white guy in a nice suit in a corporate office somewhere decided what you should listen to based on a profit margin and you went along for the ride. Don’t let them win that easy, hit play on each of these albums and join me in trying harder not to sleep on great music in 2018.

What are some great pieces I’m still sleeping on? Send me your albums and mix-tape recommendations via email 

Angelo Mota, “Crystal Avenue” Review

(This piece was originally published through TeamBackPack.net.  It is republished here in it’s original form. TeamBackPack, the Truest Platform.)

Is there a single art scene in the world more crowded with quality content than the underground hip-hop community in New York City and the surrounding territories?  Probably not, but that hasn’t stopped a younger generation of top tier rapping purists and genuine artists working out of the five boroughs and surrounding areas from stepping into the ring and offering their contribution to hip-hop music and culture.  Angelo Mota is such a voice, and on Crystal Avenue, Mota proves that he has something to say and a unique talent for speaking in a tone that transcends the saturated New New York Sound.  

Listen to Crystal Avenue cover to cover if you haven’t already, and see what Angela Mota has to contribute to Underground Hip-hop

I’ll clear the air and admit from the jump that Crystal Avenue doesn’t sound much like most underground hip-hop mixtapes.  For one, the production is crisp and clear, mostly influenced or directly created by Mota’s own developing hand behind the boards.  And you can’t miss the wider concepts and narrative themes that make this 2015 release sound more like a full album than a typical tape.  But it’s this kind of atypical and hard to characterize approach to music that has made dozens of projects in the past months, from Acid Rap to Civilia, sound more like fully delivered albums than throw away “mixtape material.”  “Almost famous” ish: if Moto is going to make it big, it will be as his own artist.  

From the first track “love my life,” it’s clear that Mota isn’t interested in handling the same old subject matter with the same old hip-hop tricks.  The tracks echoing chorus is at once highly self-aware and touchingly self effacing: “Man I love my fucking life / let’s be hopeful, let’s be high / let’s be ignorant and blind / let’s be children all the time.”  If the semi-sarcastic delivery didn’t cue you off, the sonically shaking “yeah right” following each happy hook should help you listen carefully.  Yes, the production feels bouncy and upbeat and Mota is rapping about all the reasons he “loves his life,” but it’s clear that there is a lot more nuance and darkness in that love than most people Mota’s age usually confront; “loving you is complicated.”  

Angelo Mota knows how to write songs that carry universal themes but sound unique.  See: “I Love You.”

As the project’s themes develop, Mota’s self deprecating and tragically self-aware relationship to his own art and life are put front and center again and again.  Standout single “I Love You” sounds a lot more like a break-up song than the straight-forward “young rapper, young love” track that you might expect from that cliche’d title.  “Another night not alone” is a great example of Mota’s more obviously depressed and depressing song writing, but even as the New Jersey MC croons “I just miss you, I can’t help it,” the track’s production and melody sound like something Chance or Gambino would turn into a bright and uplifting neo-soul genre bender.  

But despite the lure of potential widespread commercial viability, and an obvious ability to write original songs on any subject and in any tone, Mota consistently resists the temptation to tell a happy story that isn’t his.  For every song on Crystal Avenue written in a major key or sporting organic and “upbeat” production, there’s a dozen references to drug abuse and self hate.  For every braggadocios line channeled straight from the young male ego, there are twenty doubting reflections on life, love, darkness, light, and all of the kinds of themes that you don’t hear young voices reflecting on deeply often enough.  

You don’t have to believe that Angela Mota is one of the best Underground Hip-hop voices coming out of New Jersey.  But after listening to Crystal Avenue, there’s an argument to be made.  

View this post on Instagram

something's wrong

A post shared by angelo mota (@motaraps) on

Yes, Mota has a young voice.  Yes, his music is deliciously dark and deep without being overbearing, and communicates something instantly relatable in Mota’s eloquent handling of the scariest elements of an adult artist’s lifestyle.  Yes, his songwriting is at once musically complex and entirely accessible, but none of that provides the “it” factor that makes Crystal Avenue a success.

Angelo Mota’s music is undeniably good because it is undeniably his own.  That’s underground hip-hop done right: unique art with unique heart.

Mota knows he has a unique and talented voice, and isn’t afraid to defend it.  What’s more NYC hip-hop than that?

Looking deeper at “Crystal Avenue,” the thumping and ambient title track for the project, it’s clear that Mota’s work is about a lot more than cloud inspired hooks and accessible beats.  Here’s a look at some of my favorite lyrics:

Reincarnation of Jimmy, Fuck with me /

Tread past just like gum on his shoe /

Get stuck quickly, turna  dollar and a dream /

To a guap and a buck fifty

View this post on Instagram

snowmen

A post shared by angelo mota (@motaraps) on

Look, I get that every rapper worth his salt can rap about how dope they are and how much bread they stack.  But someone told me recently: hip-hop ain’t told in novels, it’s told in songs.  Subject matter only takes you so far.  Everyone can talk about their swag and their cash, but Mota proves, again, that tired themes can always feel fresh with the right use of the write words.

This my affidavit, I tried to read up on some Plato /

Tried to master phrasing /

And it don’t take a fucking party song to master statements /

I wrote it by the track between the grass and the pavement

Yup.  There are a lot of layers here.  From some nice wordplay (track like a song, track like a football field at the high school you lost your virginity at,) to some unique references (not many rappers talk about Plato these days,) to a look at his own art (you already mastered phrasing, Angelo,) to some nice statements and some nuanced storytelling, this short pack of bars has it all.

View this post on Instagram

i'm not done

A post shared by angelo mota (@motaraps) on

And that’s Crystal Avenue in a nutshell; this project kind of has it all, like actually.  (Top tierhip-hop visuals too.)

The features are few, but strategic (shout out to Siimba always).  The details are all there, from some interesting and forward thinking mixing that highlights Mota’s duality with top tier sonic curation to the well composed and loose narrative outlined through Crystal Avenue’s series of very brief skits.  The big picture components are all polished, from Mota’s unique and complex flow to the project’s consistently dope bars and rhyme schemes, to the young MC’s incredibly developed artistic voice.  The songwriting is lush, the hooks are appropriate if not always simple enough to get stuck in your head.  I should stop the fanboying before developing a full blown Mota Standom, because ultimately, no art is perfect.  

But if you are looking for a perfect introduction to underground hip-hop from New Jersey, Angelo Mota gives listeners just that with a unique voice on 2015’s Crystal Avenue, this week’s Mixtape Monday showcase.  

 

Don’t Walk Away From Art For Good

(This piece was originally published through TeamBackPack.net.  It is republished here in it’s original form. TeamBackPack, the Truest Platform.)

For my whole life, I have been walking away from art.  My parents told me I’d grow up to be a rockstar; somewhere in my adolescent rebellion, I crafted a version of myself that was anything but.  In highschool, I played a mean horn and sang often, but never took my music seriously or thought it could be a “career” or future.  For my whole life, I have been running away from art: towards something more tangible, less terrifying, easier to understand and explain.  I am an artist deep down, or I could have been if I spent less time running in the opposite direction.

Not that my story is unique.  Far from it.  The creative’s dilemma defines my generation: we have the heart and mind and circumstance to create the greatest art, but perhaps lack the initiative; perhaps doubt our purpose or lack the courage.  I know that I do.

Creating Great Art Takes Courage.  

Or perhaps our world is too cruel.  Many of my most talented friends have left art behind when the power and push of the “real world” gets too heavy.  And perhaps they are right to do so.  It can be hard to justify sacrifice, even in the pursuit of true art, if that struggle keeps food out of your children’s mouths or puts you on the street.  Perhaps we were all born sellouts; or perhaps something about our time and place, something about our struggle, breathes a sense of hopelessness in us: perhaps we face too great of odds to pursue great art greatly.  I always thought that I did.

Not that my story is unique: far from it.  Plenty of “artists” quit making “art.”  Plenty of creative spirits with something to say find themselves silent too often.  Plenty of the most talented and creative people I have ever met take long sabbaticals from the pursuit of creating great art, and there isn’t anything wrong with that.  When I need sleep I sleep; when I need money, I work.  Hibernation is a part of living, and stepping away from art for a moment can refresh our eyes and stimulate our imagination.

Many of hip-hop’s greatest artists have feigned retirement, coming back to art in time.  What would the art form look like if Jay-Z really faded to black?

All I beg, from each and every struggling artist that takes that break from creating, is this.  Come back.  Don’t walk away from art for good.  Come back someday.  Creating is part of you; so create.  No matter how far you stray, or how long you rest, you can walk back to art.  Don’t let anyone or anything break you, and don’t let the world shape you when you have the power to shape the world.  Art is a calling; creating is a calling.  So create.  And don’t walk away from art for good, else you walk away from who you are, and stare back some day at two paths in a lonely desert, and trace your footsteps back for years to a moment when you decided who you wanted to be and decided to leave that spark of passion to starve, when it could have roared in a brilliant flame that sparked others and kept you warm, and looking back ask yourself quietly, “what might have happened if I never gave up?”

Don’t walk away from art for good.  As a fan, I beg you.  As an “Artist,” I warn you.  There is something here, in creating, that you can not and will not find again if you leave; something about who you could be that you will never become.  I’ll walk back with you, towards Art, and when I see you there I’ll smile.

Art and Depression in Generation Xany Zombie

This piece was originally published via TeamBackPack. This is an exact re-published copy with updated links.  

(RE: Art and Depression)

I’m sitting in a puddle of sweat on a sofa that Craigslist rejected. I’m in my apartment near the beach, it’s summer, the sun is out, my air conditioning is broken, I’ve just drunken a twelve pack of cans and smoked too much and eaten too much Jack in the Box again, I’m depressed, I’m sweating, I’m listening to Knxwledge and J. Cole mixtapes, I’m Lazy, I’m restless and I’m sweating, I’m hungry and miserable, and everything smells like dirty socks, and these things happen. We are young and alive, and depressive angst is a generational pastime. In those moments of complete and wretched self loathing, I look to escapism just like too many other twenty-something soul-searching artists, running away from an existential crisis with our eyes closed.

One fried brain cell at a time.

And then I sleep it off, I wake up, I get moving, I drink some Orange Juice. I walk to the beach and have feelings. I throw-up maybe, I laugh probably, life goes on, I write something about it, I listen to Bob Marley, I listen to Guru, I make an omelette and lemonade, life goes on. Like every Lost Generation before us, we find art in pain, color in grey, our hands building something beautiful from the fear of nothingness; depression and creation have been at war always, always will be. And we’ve always looked towards escapism while caught in the middle. And we’ve always slept it off; life goes on, nothing new under the sun.

Except I see a new look in your eyes like you haven’t woken up, like you can’t sleep it off. I see a monkey on your back singing old Weeknd songs and forgetting all the words; I see him reach into his purse and pull out another pill, a different color than the last one maybe, an old classic back in rotation that tastes familiar when it deadens your fingertips. I watch lily-white all encompassing nothingness leave his monkey hands, dance over your lips and into a heart that is getting too accustomed to not feeling and not walking to the beach. I see the Zombie taking over.

I want to hold you. I want to scream in your ear until you can’t avoid the ringing. I want to tell you in words that will matter to you: “If we can’t sleep it off and feel again in the morning, art and life don’t stand a chance.”

I know the struggles of a depressive addictive creative with no back-up plan. I know it’s easier sometimes to reach for that bottle again, or whatever you prescribe yourself to blunt the everything. And I know that, eventually, you have to snap out of it; you have to write about it, or dance about it or sing about it, or make in whatever way lets your heart breathe deep from the gorgeous shit that keeps you alive about it. You have to swim in it. You have to process something, you have to feel something; you have to be something that answers your questions, you have to feel something, anything.

I’m afraid of my own worst destiny when I see those dead eyes that haven’t slept it off, and I’m afraid of yours. I’m afraid you won’t make it back up for breath. I’m afraid that everything you could have created, everything you could have been and brought into the world and every fingerprint you could have left on someone else’s heart who needed it, every piece of art you finished in a dream is being stolen from you one pill at a time, one escape at a time, one bender that never ends at a time.

Until there’s nothing left to feel but nothing.

I’m afraid for my generation’s soul when I see another artist I love diving deeper into something they can’t wake up from, and I’m afraid for what’s next if we can’t feel in the morning. If we never stop chasing the deeper grey one chemical reaction at a time, one nihilistic creation-suicide at a time, one denial of anything and everything at a time. “Generation Zany Zombie” isn’t held down by a pill or boxed in by a world too grey; there have always been pills, there have always been clouds that make you forget that the sun’s still warm. Our problems aren’t new, our escapes aren’t novel. But the total acceptance of total numb by so many of us, and the way the rest of us look on totally accepting that numbness, is scary.

I’m afraid we’ll all start believing the statements we make in this forfeit to nothing-grey: that depression wins always and forever, and that art can’t save us anymore. That we need to reach for a pill to survive, when the only way we can truly thrive is by feeling the anything that that pill defeats and bringing that anything to life. I’m afraid of what the world will look like when we lose the will to speak because it all sounds the same anyway, lose the power to express what’s in our hearts because we’ve forgotten how to listen to the beauty they whisper in each beat.

I know we’ll make it through; I’m not sure what that “through” will look like.

Maybe we will chase the nothing-grey too deep. Maybe we’ll never wake up. Maybe Generation Zany Zombie is here to stay, and maybe art lost to depression in all of us, and maybe we’ll all die lukewarm too-grey deaths with empty note-books in our backpacks and songs whispering softly still in our hearts that won’t leave our lips and works of magic only finished in our dreams.

Or, maybe, we’ll sleep it off and wake up and feel. More Chance the Rappers defeating the numbness with sunshine, more Marshall Mathers pulling something powerful from the wreckage of stories that won’t let you escape forever. I know we’ll make it through; I hope that on the other side is a poem that says

“It’s ok to feel sad, just feel something. Set down that escape and make something about it. Your art/life depends on it.”

Summer is gone. I’m getting on a train again, and letting a friend escape a hug that I miss before it’s over.  She looks at me, really looks at me, and begs me, really begs me: “don’t smoke too much up there, ok?  Don’t numb everything, I just saw Andy and he looks like he’s been through hell. Don’t do that, ok?” I smile a bit, not with my eyes, and mean it when I look back, really look back, and tell her “ok, I’m gonna be ok, it’s ok.” I get on the train, sleep it off, wake up, and feel; our art/life depends on it.

 

Thank You, Artists.

Thank you for “Through the Wire.” The first time I heard that goofy sizzurp/bizerk line, I knew we’d get along just fine for a good long while. Thank you for “Late Orchestration;” thank you for the heart and soul in “Roses,” in Heartbreaks. For that deeply perfect, perfectly flawed modern psycho-analytic masterpiece that is “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy,” I thank you again on the weekly with every listen-through. And for what it took out of you to make all that, to deliver again and again on the highest level, to push your limits and constantly influence the aesthetic of an entire generation of artists and innovators, to create deeply and truly from your unique and damaged genius; deeply, truly, thank you.

The Masses have been quick to crucify you, but I’ve seen pain in your eyes for a long time now. It can’t be easy to be God famous all day every day. It can’t be easy to carry the weight of expectations, heaviest your own, through the sea of depression and paparazzi and power-lust fulfilled and ambitious self-destruction and drugs and money. It wasn’t easy for Kurt Cobain, either. So, uh, thanks. I know it hasn’t been easy. I know you’ve given a lot.

We’ve seen pain in your eyes for a long time now. Thank you for creating in defiance of that pain.

Sometimes we just need to slow down, take it easy, light up, ease off. Breath deep. Remember what we are grateful for. Today, I’m grateful for Kanye and all his music has given me. Can’t wait for the comeback, ‘Ye. I’m thankful for what 7 fuckin classics took out of Yeezy, for all he had to give, and for his tireless devotion to creating that always meant there wasn’t any other option. To every other artist, following their dreams and inspiring my own through the revolutionary act of creating, I owe you the same thanks.

Thanks for making art this raw.

Thank you for the music. The REAL fuckin music you make, the from the heart and in the streets and authentic to you grimy political boundary-pushing passion-crafted art you make, that shit deserves gratitude. Thank you for holding your head high and doing what you feel you were born to do. Thanks for not giving up when it’s always easier to give up. Thanks for creating, inspiring, thinking, feeling, seeing, making, crafting, speaking, raising your voice, organizing, art-ing.

Thanks for everything you do.

Whatever you are making, whatever you make it for, WHEREver you are making, know your art has value and that you change the world every time you bring a part of yourself into existence. Thank you.

And for all it takes out of you, Jesus Christ, thank you. I know rent ain’t cheap. I know that you don’t sleep enough, that you struggle with demons, that you just want to drink or watch T.V. or run-away some times. And I know that you create anyways because that’s what makes the darkest parts of your heart lighter. Thank you for giving us a part of yourself. Thank your for loving your art first and always.

Thank you for songs this important.

It’s discouraging sometimes, I know, when you like you’ve given everything and nobody gives a fuck. Trust me, we care. We’re grateful.

From Yeezy to the dude down your street rapping in his microphone in Mama’s basement, I’m grateful for everything that every artists gives me. This world makes more sense thanks to the things that you make. This world is less gray because you speak from your soul and create from your heart. Thank you. Keep ya head up, champ. We’re all grateful.

Agree with anything in this post?  Share this article with an artist that you are thankful for today.

cooltext217821414332729

ARTISTS:  I’m offering 50% off on all of my “Artists Services” through 1/1/2017.  My way of saying “thanks” for all you do.  

5 Ways To Support Your Favorite Underground Hip-hop Artist Beyond A “Like”

underground hip-hop

I don’t care if it’s Tech N9ne signing his name on a million Strangers’ titties or Def-i responding to every Facebook comment on his fan page’s timeline; working underground hip-hop artists on every level depend on the same thing for their survival. The support of their fans. And as a fan of hip-hop, it’s in your best interest to support the bejeezus out of every artist whose music you enjoy.

If you want your favorite underground hip-hop artists to make music, support their dreams.  

But what’s “support” really mean?  Here’s a bit of news that shouldn’t serve as a wake up call to too many of you: “liking” your favorite rapper’s page or favoriting their latest tweet is peanuts.

Truly supporting hip-hop art takes more work than that. Here are five things you can do as a fan of underground hip-hop to more meaningfully and productively support your favorite artists.

underground-rappers

1. Spread The Music In Person

This past year, my New Year’s Resolution was to only play local underground hip-hop artists that I know in person and rock with on a personal level whenever the AUX chord comes my way. As a result, dozens of homies now name KWG among their favorite West Coast MCs and slide a track or two by Lost, the Artist or Notrotious next to Chance and Gambino on their own playlists.

That can cause a ripple effect, but it has much more impact than just helping the dude down the street who raps rack up a couple plays on SoundCloud.

Ultimately, artists like Tech only succeed in the long term because every Technician feels personally invested in Strangeland’s unique story. That kind of bond is only very rarely created through a digital exchange; Nina himself built his empire on years and years of touring and countless personal contacts.

Sitting a friend down and showing them an artist you really care about can recreate a shade of that personal experience, and give your homie a more unique reason to check out the rappers you ride for than if you just spammed their inbox with music videos. If you’re a DJ or trusted taste maker in your community, even better, but every fan can do their part in spreading the word on a personal and intimate level.

2. Stop Stealing Art You Believe In

Look, I’m not gonna front and pretend like I bought every album in my iTunes library. But if you really believe in the music that your favorite underground hip-hop artist creates, putting your money where your mouth is is hugely important.

When you can, buy albums outright and directly from artists themselves whenever possible. When you can only spare a buck or two, cop the single or donate on Bandcamp.

keep-calm-and-stream-itIf you hunger for more music than your wallet can support, start streaming things on Spotify or watching YouTube videos instead of reaching straight for the torrent search bar. Yeah, your favorite rapper barely makes a fraction of a penny when you stream things on most services, but it still counts for something if you leave that Tidal playlist on a constant loop.

 

“Buy my music, don’t steal it.”  –Vince Staples

Personally, I try to buy one album per month. Usually that’s my favorite drop by anyone from Nas to Jeff Turner to Kendrick Lamar; whatever I’ve listened to the most in a month or has moved me the most, I will support with my hard earned cheddar.

When I can, it’s a physical copy bought straight from the hands of a hungry artist at a merch booth in the back of a dirty bar. Because that’s just how it should be done. Speaking of which…

3. Go To The Fucking Show, Buy The Fucking Merch

Look, for years the headline hasn’t changed: the record industry is broken and dead and never coming back and probably barely worth mourning. Which is why everyone from Chance to Lil B to Alien Family needs YOU, as a fan of underground hip-hop, to step the fuck up.
Go to the fucking show and buy the fucking merch, or your favorite artist will starve and their kids will starve and they will stop rapping and go work at a bank and you will live in a cold and empty world where the only rapping left is corporate and contrived pop-trap and you will cry the late great real spill of yesteryear and you will only have yourself to blame. Yes, it’s that important.

To “raw-1get to the next level,” no matter what level they are currently on, underground hip-hop artists need to prove to venues that they can bring in heads. Go to the show and you get to support your favorite rapper’s ascension to bigger and bigger venues while seeing them do their thing in person. Win-win.

Plus, many of your favorite rappers probably play shows that are way cheaper than you’d assume. I recently saw KRS for fifteen bucks.

There’s NOTHING like seeing your favorite artists live.

And while most venues either give artists a cut of the door or pay them upfront based on how many heads can be expected, going to shows provides you with an even better way to support the art you want to see winning. Buy the fucking merch.

Shut up and do it: walk to the back of that bar and find that table with a stoned roadie or, very often, the artist you believe in in the flesh. Buy a shirt, have a conversation, and put a dollar into an underground hip-hop artist’s pocket all at once. Win-win-win. Maybe someone from Strange will even sign your girlfriend’s jiggly bits.

4. Support Their Wider Presence On The Hip-hop Interwebs

Unless you are a thirteen year old living in 2009, you probably know by now that there are a LOT of cool places around the web beyond Facebook and Twitter. Hip-hop lives in every single one of those places. And one of the most important ways you can support the underground hip-hop artists you love through digital means is checking out where else they reside around the hip-hop internet outside of the basic social media landscape.

giphyPeeping an artist’s website can be a great way to learn more about them and get all of their media and info in one place, but it can also help the artist directly by providing them with web traffic figures that can be leveraged to secure blog placements in the future.

And while you are on their site, jump on that indie rapper’s mailing list to make sure you never miss an important update about their art. Digital numbers like these aren’t as obvious of a way to show your support as a Facebook like, but they can be even more important for the continued success of artists.

Even better than browsing your favorite rapper’s site? Engage with material when they are featured in the media and on hip-hop blogs. If a blog chooses to do a write-up on an underground hip-hop artist that you believe in and that post gets a ton of shares, comments, and interactions, said blog will be more likely to do more write-ups on said artist in the future.

It ain’t rocket science, just another win-win-win that takes moments of your time but can do a ton in securing exposure for music you want to see supported.

5. Go Beyond Basic Social Media Interactions

If these other four ideas all sound like too much effort (and they aren’t, #BUYTHEFUCKINGMERCH) there are plenty of ways you can support good hip-hop quickly and easily through social media beyond a basic “like” on a page or status.

761.gifGenerally, every positive interaction on social media sites like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter are a good thing since they will lead to greater exposure, but there is a very significant hierarchy to how much support these interactions really translate into on the artist’s end.

On Facebook and Instagram, likes that come immediately or very shortly after material is posted will help those posts have a further “reach” and cross more eyeballs. Comments are even more important in improving the reach of anything that an artist posts, and Shares/Reposts take the cake for being even more significant. Same goes for Twitter: re-tweets are king.

Don’t worry too much about how or why, just get it through your head: a comment and share does a lot more to show your support than clicking that thumb and hoping that a notification and a warm and fuzzy feeling will keep your favorite rapper’s bills paid.

If you really support an artist, SHOW IT.  

The Bottom Line?

It’s not the 90’s, when big labels had big funds to invest in acts like Tupac or Lauryn Hill, acts that could straddle the too often conflicting worlds of commercial success and artistic excellence. It’s not the early 2000’s, when indie legends like MF Doom could count on regular record sales and a deep catalog to keep the lights on.

In this shit-speckled stage in the evolution of the underground hip-hop industry, artists on every level need YOU in order to keep making music.

Which means it’s up to you to do more than just throw a few “likes” around and hope for a better XXL class next year. Support the music you want to see getting made in the hip-hop scene, and the hip-hop scene will keep producing the kinds of music you want to hear. Fail to show your support, and we can expect more Boats, less Writeousness, plain and simple.

It ain’t that hard. Especially if you stop making excuses and put your money where your ears are.

How else can you support underground music? Sound off in the comments below.  

THE RISE OF “ALMOST FAMOUS” RAPPERS, AND HOW YOU CAN HELP

bronson-730x385What do Joey Bada$$, Action Bronson, Killer Mike, Wrekonize, and Nipsey Hussle all have in common?  If you are familiar with TeamBackPack, you are probably familiar with all of these names, too.  Lovers of independent and underground hip-hop pride themselves on being tuned in to what’s poppin outside of the mainstream, and all of the artists I listed above have been around for long enough to land on most hip-hop head’s radar at some point.  Click here to read more…

“TO PIMP A BUTTERFLY” ALBUM REVIEW: THIS TIME, FOR REAL, NOTHING WILL BE THE SAME

150316-kendrick-lamar-730x486It’s easy as a fan of independent hip-hop to write off anything that drops in the dreaded world of “mainstream rap” as not worth your time.  Don’t do this to Kendrick Lamar’s “To Pimp a Butterfly.”  If you skip this album, you cheat yourself the chance of experiencing one of the most important releases for hip-hop culture to ever get pressed in wax.  Click here to read more…

LESS “I,” MORE “WE” | WHY HIP-HOP FANS SHOULD CARE ABOUT COMMUNITY AND MOVEMENTS

wbblogbkgrd-9de3-730x456The hip-hop community is a strange one.

Emcees at every stage of the game are happy to sing their crew’s praises one day and dis former crewmates the next (See: Kutt Calhoun, Weezy “Free Agent” Baby).  And hip-hop fans aren’t any more reliable with their allegiances and attitudes: we love to dub an artist corny one day and the second coming another (See: “2014 Forest Hills Drive”) or abandon our golden child when a song drops that we don’t like (See: “I”).  Click here to read more…

LIVE FROM THE UNDERGROUND: WEEK OF 3/13

live-from-the-underground-730x487

Community is about all of us, about every fan and their favorite artist that I haven’t heard of yet.  If you want to help build the underground hip-hop community, and make sure that the best music is recognized, then help support this column’s goals by joining the conversation!  Comment at the end of this post with your feedback, any artists and stories I am sleeping on, or any of your reactions to this column.  Click here to read more…