Monday, December 05, 2016

2017 Grammy Nomination Predictions

The nominations for the Grammys will be announced on Dec. 6, but as is tradition, I'm taking a crack at some predictions.

Record of the Year

Adele - "Hello"
Beyonce - "Formation"
Justin Bieber - "Love Yourself "
The Chainsmokers feat. Halsey - "Closer"
Rihanna feat. Drake - "Work"

Analysis: The narrative of Beyonce vs. Adele will drive ratings, but the NARAS likes Adele and would probably prefer her to win, which is I'm including Rihanna and Drake to split votes with Bey over songs like Lukas Graham's "7 Years" and Sia's "Cheap Thrills."
Possible spoilers: Drake - "One Dance," Lukas Graham - "7 Years," Radiohead - "Burn The Witch," Rae Sremmurd feat. Gucci Mane - "Black Beatles," Sia feat. Sean Paul - "Cheap Thrills,"  Justin Timberlake feat. Anna Kendrick & James Corden - "Can't Stop The Feeling," Twenty One Pilots - "Stressed Out," The Weeknd feat. Daft Punk - "Starboy"

Song of the Year

Adele - "Hello"
Justin Bieber - "Love Yourself"
Lukas Graham - "7 Years"
Maxwell - "Lake By The Ocean"
Justin Timberlake - "Can't Stop The Feeling"

Analysis: Timberlake's team submitted the version with his Trolls co-stars for Record of the Year, so it stands a better shot here, especially with an songwriting help from Max Martin. The traditional R&B voting contingent come through for their own and Maxwell is as respected as they come.
Possible spoilers: Beyonce - "Formation," David Bowie - "Blackstar," Kelly Clarkson - "Piece By Piece," Maren Morris - "My Church"

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Recent interviews on Noteworthy: Jessy Lanza, Cate Le Bon, B Boys & more

We're past the midway point of the year, so I thought I'd take a look back at all the interviews I've done so far in 2016 for my radio show Noteworthy. You can always listen live every Monday at from 6PM-8PM CT and check out my past interviews on Soundcloud.

Cate Le Bon
Apologies for any swinging door background noises you come across. It's the easiest way to tell that I'm doing an interview in the basement of Schuba's. I also revealed during this interview that I had never listened to any Faust before. Please don't take away my cool kid card.

Jessy Lanza
I was actually supposed to interview Jessy a few years back, but a train delay prevented me from meeting up with her. As luck would have it, when I finally got her on the phone in April, we had to do the interview a second time as our first go-around didn't record. The universe was determined to see this one through despite the obstacles. Cherish this.

Friday, June 17, 2016

An early preview of the 2017 Grammys

With a few new rule changes in place, I can now give you my early predictions as to who will be nominated in the big four categories at the 59th Grammy Awards which will take place on Feb. 12, 2017. Nominees won't be announced until December, so make sure to come back for my final guesses.

Album of the Year

1. Adele - 25
What's in it's favor: She's one of the most loved and respected pop stars in the world and is likely the last artist in our lifetime to sell two million pure copies in their first week.
What might work against it: Adele is all but assured of a nomination, but if she doesn't, it'll be because everyone has forgotten about the album since it has largely faded from public conscience since its release.

2. Beyoncé - Lemonade
What's in it's favor: Another widely respected artist once again changed the concept of how we view an album release in an age where singles dominate the conversation. Lemonade is also her most personal and daring work to date and she can longer be dismissed as someone who plays it safe.
What might work against it: There may still be some backlash from those who viewed "Formation" and her Super Bowl performance as anti-police. Or basically the people in this SNL skit.

3. Radiohead - A Moon Shaped Pool
What's in it's favor: If recent Album of the Year wins for Beck and Daft Punk are any indication, the Grammys have no qualms about giving artists who were embraced by alternative rock stations in the 1990s their just due. It's basically the equivalent of rewarding Bob Dylan, Santana and Ray Charles, but only fast-forwarded a few generations for what I now call the cool dad slot. Their non-campaign campaign also helped garner them some news and the album has been received warmly so far by critics. And you really can't go wrong if Bob Ludwig is your engineer (past AOTY winners Mumford & Sons' Babel, Daft Punk Random Access Memories and Beck's Morning Phase).
What might work against it: As worthy as an artist Beck is, his win still came with some backlash since it was viewed as a reward for an artist who had released superior work in the past. Letting Radiohead in and possibly winning would make the Grammys more predictable, especially in a year where Beyoncé is once again a heavy favorite.

Wednesday, May 04, 2016

The Side Eyes - "I Don't Want To Go To School"

Some of us have the misfortune of painfully waiting out the clock during the day in one form or another. We've been doing it for most our lives dating back around the time when school became less fun and no longer about finger painting. There's no legitimate reason in this song that would pass muster as to why not going to school is a smart choice. It's all about that unbridled burst of exasperation, however brief, of not wanting to be somewhere you're told you have to be. It's a pretty glorious burst on record here actually, with verses that frantically build up at a SoCal pop punk pace to the borderline tantrum of the chorus, slowed down to a near-sludge so that the bemoaning "I don't wanna go to school/I don't wanna use my brain" becomes a call-to-arms to for the disenfranchised to stay in bed all morning and roam the streets during the night.

You can pre-order The Side Eyes' debut cassette EP here.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Kendrick Lamar's Control Challenge: Updated 2016 Rankings

In August of 2013, the hip hop world was shaken to its core by a track that didn't even have an official release. Big Sean's "Control" was originally supposed to be on his 2nd album, Hall Of Fame, but sample clearance issues prevented it from landing on the final track list. By the grace of all that is great, Sean decided to share the track regardless, which set off a frenzy for the following weeks.

On a song that featured Kendrick Lamar and Jay Electronica, one would expect Big Sean to drop one of the best verses of his career or for the hermit-like Jay to chime in with a contribution of superb quality, but it was Kendrick that got the whole world talking:

I'm usually homeboys with the same n----s I'm rhymin' with
But this is hip-hop and them n----s should know what time it is
And that goes for Jermaine Cole, Big KRIT, Wale, Pusha T, Meek Millz,
A$AP Rocky, Drake, Big Sean, Jay Electron', Tyler, Mac Miller
I got love for you all but I'm tryna murder you n----s
Trying to make sure your core fans never heard of you n----s
They don't wanna hear not one more noun or verb from you n----s
What is competition? I'm trying to raise the bar high
Who tryna jump and get it? You're better off trying to skydive

Plenty of people answered the challenge, which was great since the culture always thrives when there is healthy competition involved, but the highest potential laid with those who were called out. Would we see any noticeable change in quality after they were given a warning shot in front of the entire world?

It's been more than two years since "Control," which I think is an appropriate amount of time to examine the impact Lamar's verse made on those that were mentioned. In order to be fair, I only took a look at an artist's career after they had enough time to respond properly, so I didn't factor in albums like Nothing Was The Same and My Name Is My Name since they were only released a few months after the fallout and it was likely too late for Drake and Pusha T to change course. While Kendrick didn't count sales as part of the criteria, I did take into account an artist's visibility throughout this period since it is a reflection of hard work. For the most part, I graded on how much an artist improved from their previous material and if their output was worthy of them being mentioned as the best since the track was made public.

Here are the current standings, as I see it, for Kendrick's Control Challenge in 2016.

1. Kendrick Lamar  

We've been through two calendars and no one has come close to knocking Lamar off the perch. He made another great album with To Pimp A Butterfly, which was as culturally relevant as anything released last year and earned Lamar a second straight Album of the Year nomination at the Grammys (not to mention having one of the best performances at the ceremony). Ideally, twelve of the best hip hop albums from the past five years should come from this group. Only one artist can undisputedly claim to having two spots on that list. The recent success of untitled unmastered with no promotion only further cemented the hold Lamar has on listeners hungry for quality. Outside of the recording booth, Lamar could be found conversing with Quincy Jones or performing with the National Symphony Orchestra, which is miles ahead of what anyone who has released a debut album in the past five years has done to expand the scope of hip hop. Whether it be on wax, on stage or freestyling on the spot in front of a bunch of kids, Lamar not only accepted his own challenge, but showed the rest of the field how it's done.

2. Drake 

He's certainly had stronger albums, with works like If You're Reading This It's Too Late and the Future collaboration, What A Time To Be Alive, falling short of the quality of Nothing Was The Same. The idea of the Control Challenge was to show improvement and take risks, but Drake pretty much stood pat for the most part and didn't do anything to alienate his core fan base. While Drake has been consistent, he rarely excites with a song the same way that other greats have been able to do. So why is he ranked at #2 for such a so-so outing so far? Look no further than "Back To Back." At a time where most beefs are handled on social media, Drake took it back to the core essence of hip hop and aired his grievances with Meek Mill using a pen and pad. The purpose of the Control Challenge was to flesh out who was going to grab that brass ring and at what cost. He hasn't measured up creatively, but when the opportunity came, he didn't back down.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Grammy Winner Predictions for 2016

It's time once again for the Grammys to be handed out (the 58th occasion of the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences doing so). The hardware will be given on Monday, Feb. 15 this year on CBS, instead of the usual Sunday. The Grammys have slowly made some progress with their nominations in the general field, but could stand to see some changes in other genres and how they vote for winners overall. I think we'll always find something to complain about until we get people in the industry without hidden agendas who are actually aware of new trends to select nominations and for those who have been recent contributors to their genres to have their votes count more than other members when it comes to determining winners within that specified field. Still, it's the most important game in town for musicians and we'll be watching anyway. These are my predictions for who will take home some gold.

Record of the Year

D'Angelo and the Vanguard - "Really Love"
Mark Ronson feat. Bruno Mars - "Uptown Funk"
Ed Sheeran - "Thinking Out Loud"
Taylor Swift - "Blank Space"
The Weeknd - "Can't Feel My Face"

Should win: As much as I'm a fan of "Really Love," it's rare that we get songs that unite an entire nation like "Uptown Funk." It will be kicking weddings into high gear for the next decade.
Will win: "Uptown Funk," because it did unite a nation after all.
Overlooked: Jason Derulo's "Want To Want Me" was the premier MJ-inspired song of 2015.

Album of the Year

Alabama Shakes - Sound & Color
Kendrick Lamar - To Pimp a Butterfly
Chris Stapleton - Traveller
Taylor Swift - 1989
The Weeknd - Beauty Behind The Madness

Should win: Kendrick's album was miles ahead of everyone.
Will win: Alabama Shakes. It's only been two years since the Grammys awarded Best New Artist and Best Rap Album to Macklemore & Ryan Lewis over Kendrick Lamar. I doubt their taste in straightforward hip hop has improved that much during that time span. Sound & Color comes from a hip band, allowing the Grammys to maintain credibility with a safer choice. It's also telling that the album's producer, Blake Mills, whose sole credit was Sound & Color got a Producer of the Year nomination. Throw in a nomination for Best Engineered Album, which has previously been won by recent AOTY winners Beck and Daft Punk, and it's looking likelier that the older, rock-leaning members, which make up a good deal of the NARAS, will tip the scales in favor of Alabama Shakes.
Overlooked: Who wasn't rooting for D'Angelo's Black Messiah? Even better, only a minuscule amount found it lackluster.<!--more>

Tuesday, February 02, 2016

Top 250 Singles of 2015

This was the first year I seriously flirted with going past the usual 250 slots for my favorite singles of the year, simply because there is seemingly something worth sharing that comes out everyday. Going up to 300 or 400 could very well be a possibility in the future, but for now, I really like the sound and legitimacy of 250. As always, there's a Spotify playlist included at the bottom of the list and all entries marked with a (*) have direct links to the song since they're not on Spotify. Make sure to check out my best albums list as well.

1. The Internet feat. Kaytranada - Girl

The overwhelming desire to touch and be touched becomes a reflex over the course of this song. There are multiple tracks in the catalog of The Internet that cover this sort of ground, but none quite as potent as "Girl." Syd tha Kid's delivery barely goes above the hushed volume that's expected from speaking in the dark, which is complementary for a song that has more than a few textures of the interstellar in it. Her voice is a calming presence in the void, like it would be if one were to float in space. As airy as "Girl" is, the entire thing drips more than anything. The deep bass tone, which could've come from none other than Kaytranada, is as patient as it gets and moves with the speed of honey, making sure that every drop of sensuality lands perfectly. Light a candle, let your hands flow and send a thank you card to The Internet for breaking your cold streak.

Thursday, January 07, 2016

Best 50 Albums of 2015

Enjoy the list. Enjoy and share anything new you discover. Enjoy the time that we're living in that we have an unending amount of quality music out there Enjoy the Spotify playlist and enjoy my singles list which will be up pretty soon. 

1. Kendrick Lamar - To Pimp A Butterfly 

The consensus on how great this album is so overwhelming that I'm not even sure how to approach it in a way that no one has yet, so I'll just name my top ten favorite moments instead:

10) The first time you hear Thundercat's harmonies in the background during "Complexion (2 Zulu Love)."

9) The placement of "You Ain't Gotta Lie (Momma Said)" so late in the album sequencing as a brief palate cleanser between some of the heavier material.

8) "This dick ain't freeeee..."

7) The conversation between Kendrick and 2Pac on album closer "Mortal Man," which puts the whole experience into context. It's as if To Pimp A Butterfly was an essay about what it's like to be African-American in 2015 submitted to be graded by Professor Shakur.

6) The first time the chords move up a half-step in "King Kunta" as Lamar lambastes rappers employing ghostwriters.

5) Every single vocal inflection Anna Wise does on "These Walls" and when Bilal bursts through during the chorus. 

4) The moment the beat drops on "Alright" and you feel like you can take on anything the world has to throw at you.

3) The last verse of "The Blacker The Berry."

2) The audacity of rapping over the jazzy time signature of"For Sale (Interlude)". 

1) The gravity when you finally reach the end of "How Much A Dollar Cost?"

The jig is up, I seen you from a mile away losin' focus
And I'm insensitive, and I lack empathy
He looked at me and said, "Your potential is bittersweet"
I looked at him and said, "Every nickel is mines to keep"
He looked at me and said, "Know the truth, it'll set you free
You're lookin' at the Messiah, the son of Jehovah, the higher power
The choir that spoke the word, the Holy Spirit
The nerve of Nazareth, and I'll tell you just how much a dollar cost
The price of having a spot in Heaven, embrace your loss, I am God"