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Look & Listen

Noname vs. J. Cole: A Necessary Discussion

The internet was set ablaze on Wednesday morning, after J. Cole dropped his first single in over a year, “Snow On Tha Bluff.” The track has been perceived and deduced as a “diss track” directed towards Chicago rapper and activist, Noname. The record seems to have been released in response to a since-deleted tweet from Noname which read, “Poor black folks all over the country are putting their bodies on the line in protest for our collective safety and y’all favorite top selling rappers not even willing to put a tweet up,” the tweet continues, “n****s whole discographies be about black plight and they nowhere to be found.”

Fans and followers of the artist were left to their own devices to conclude the rappers to whom she was referring were that of J. Cole, Kendrick Lamar, Kanye West and the like, who are arguably the most prevalent artists in the game right now and have been for the last several years. All three of the aforementioned artists have since been seen at protests and have donated funds in support of the civil rights movement and the families affected by police brutality.

Noname, like many rappers, has been known for her vocal opposition to racial inequality and disproportionate economic and judicial disparity. The artist created a book club to discuss literature with heavy focus on these topics written by Black authors and has written numerous songs focused on various social issues regarding race. This week is not the first time she has been criticized for her somewhat radical views.


“Snow On Tha Bluff” sparked conversation among many about misogyny and the current societal climate. Many were saying the song was “tone deaf,” due to the recent murder of Owulatoyin Salau, a 19-year old Black activist in Tallahassee, FL. Oluwatoyin had spoken out about recent sexual abuse on her Twitter account, to spread awareness and to ask for help, only to be found dead just days later. The horrific loss of young Toyin Salau resulted in a global conversation directed towards awareness about the many ways Black women are continuously mistreated and unjustly cast aside in society. Many artists took to social media after Toyin’s passing with heavy hearts to commemorate the young woman’s plight and her fight for justice in her last days.


“Diss track” or not, “Snow On Tha Bluff” seems to be directed internally just as much as externally; the core focus of the track seems to be that of self-awareness. It’s clear the artist is dealing with what I’m sure a lot of us might be experiencing right now: confusion and guilt. Cole took to Twitter the morning after the song’s release, beginning the thread by saying, “I stand behind every word of the song I dropped last night,” Cole continues: “Right or wrong I can’t say, but I can say it was honest.” The rapper used this as an opportunity to promote Noname as a “leader in these times” and praised her dedication to literacy and activism.

One particularly biting lyric from the song has been deduced as the main culprit for the division among listeners: “She mad at the celebrities, lowkey I be thinkin’ she talkin’ ’bout me / Now I ain’t no dummy to think I’m above criticism /
So when I see something that’s valid, I listen / But shit, it’s something about the queen tone that’s botherin’ me.”
The phrase “watch your tone” strikes a chord with many– especially women– as it’s often used as a way to manipulate conversation, gaslight and to exert power and dominance over another. The verse continues with what some perceived as guidance and others perceived as condescension: “She strike me as somebody blessed enough to grow up in conscious environment / With parents that know ’bout the struggle for liberation and in turn they provide her with / A perspective and awareness of the system and unfairness that afflicts ’em / And the clearest understandin’ of what we gotta do to get free /And the frustration that fills her words seems to come from the fact that most people don’t see / Just ’cause you woke and I’m not, that shit ain’t no reason to talk like you better than me.”

The track ends with a call to arms and an olive branch, “Fill me up with wisdom and some courage / Plus endurance to survive, help mine thrive.”


Noname responded to the single with a record of her own, Madlib-produced “Song 33,” on Thursday, which was met with both criticism and applause. The track highlights the deaths of Oluwatoyin Salau and George Floyd and focuses on the power of a platform. The song begins, begging to steer the conversation back to what’s important: “I saw a demon on my shoulder, it’s lookin’ like patriarchy / Like scrubbin’ blood off the ceiling and bleachin’ another carpet / How my house get haunted? / Why Toyin body don’t embody all the life she wanted? / A baby, just nineteen / I know I dream all black / I seen her everything, immortalizin’ tweets all caps / They say they found her dead,” followed by a brief but poignant chorus, “One girl go missin, another gone missin’.”

Noname was praised for her humility by some for her response to Cole’s “diss,” but she made it evident she wouldn’t take the heat lying down: “But n****s in the back, quiet as a church mouse / Basement studio when duty calls to get the verse out / I guess the ego hurt now / It’s time to go to work, wow, look at him go / He really ’bout to write about me when the world is in smokes?”


The ill-perceived “beef” among the two artists is rather a conversation through music, a discussion about what we can do as individuals to keep today’s civil rights movement alive and in public focus. Change begins at the human level– regardless of how big or small one’s platform may be, the importance of using said platform to spread awareness seems to be the main topic of discussion between the two artists with these tracks.

It’s not about who had the last word or whose words were better; it’s about the discourse and conversation these songs have brought to light. There’s no right or wrong way to protest injustice. Colin Kaepernick was fired for protesting police brutality on the football field by kneeling during the national anthem. Peaceful protests have become violent with the aid of police retaliation in the form of rubber bullets, tear gas and pepper spray. Racists are being outed by KPop fans and Skai Jackson on Twitter, causing them to lose scholarships and jobs which could potentially perpetuate systemic racism in fields such as public health, law enforcement and even marketing. One’s form of protest and activism may not look similar to another’s– the fact of the matter is both J. Cole and Noname are taking two separate paths to the same destination. There’s no “beef” here, just necessary intelligent discussion in the form of music.

Please feel free to share your thoughts and opinions on J. Cole’s “Snow On Tha Bluff” and Noname’s “Song 33” in the comments. Let’s talk about it.

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Reviews

A Very Ugly Story – Oh Hi Ali

“Formerly known as the world’s ugliest man,” Oh Hi Ali released his debut album, A Very Ugly Story, in May of last year. Is that gonna stop us from talking about it? Nope. Imagine if Mick Jenkins and KYLE decided to make a project together– bizarre, right? That’s why we’re talking about it.

A Very Ugly Story takes us through this antihero’s journey, beginning with “Bring It On,” which features an amusing interpolation of Stevie Wonder’s “Isn’t She Lovely?” and Daphne & Celeste’s “U.G.L.Y.” The pop culture references don’t stop there; continuing onto the second track, with “Sister Sister,” the artist tips his hat to the ABC classic with precocious ad-libs intertwined with clever word play. Conceptually, lyrically and sonically, this song is guaranteed to put a smile on your face. The project’s fusion of sounds is thanks to the combined efforts of producers Malik Bawa, DECAP, West1ne and J.Robb.

Continuing our expedition through A Very Ugly Story, Ali directs his focus on the antagonists in this (decidedly not) ugly story with the intrepid “Medusa” and the project’s second single, “Oh Hi.” On the latter track, Ali takes the perspective of his naysayers: “Mister, what you think, that you’re famous? You done pushed a couple buttons on the elevator, leveled up and think you know what the game is. (Psych!),” but the independent quickly reminds us, “I built this shit from the dirt like a handyman, if Bob can’t do it then Manny can. They wanna know how the flow is so sweetly buzzing through the streets, my name sound like The Candyman.”

Throughout the project, the artist addresses the trials and tribulations of love and lust. On ear-candy tracks like “Rates” and “Angles,” Ali centers on the importance of staying true to yourself in romance, without vanity. Watch Ali perform “Rates” for Sunday Sauuce:

The story continues with harder tracks like “7 Years,” “Stretch,” and “Protein Bar.” With these records, the listener is watching the artist grow before their eyes (or before their ears?), with the confidence of a green giant. The story concludes with the spooky diss track, “Funeral,” the project’s first single was released in conjunction with an equally spooky music video.

The amount of pop culture Easter eggs throughout this project is enough to make you want to run this back at least once. Ali’s cadence and intelligent word play combined with head-bopping, effervescent production will have you coming back again after that. 9/10

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Look & Listen Reviews

“End Of Daze” – Spillage Village

If you’re not familiar with Spillage Village, the group was originally comprised of the combined efforts of five members: EARTHGANG (Johnny Venus and Wowgr8 aka Doctur Dot), JID, Hollywood JB, and Jurdan Bryant. The group has recently grown to include the ever-ethereal and slick-tongued Mereba and the indomitable 6lack.

Founded by EARTHGANG in 2010 at Hampton University in Virginia, the collective has released three projects: Bears Like This (2014), Bears Like This Too (2015), and Bears Like This Too Much (2016). EARTHGANG spoke with Fader in 2016 about the “Bears” chronicles saying, “We use these ‘Bears’ projects like checkpoints, markers in time. The first one came out when we first started fucking around with these sounds. The second one came as n****s had toured a little bit, learned a little bit. At this point now, we’ve been on tours, we’ve got a lot of other things we’ve been working on.”

JID and EARTHGANG shared their experiences on their Never Had Shit Tour in the form of a short video series in 2018.

If you’re reading this, you’re probably familiar with just how much each of these members have grown in their careers and with their crafts– so imagine the anticipation fans felt when they announced the release of their forthcoming project, SPILLIGION, earlier this year. EARTHGANG took to Reddit, Twitter and Instagram to make the official announcement, writing, “The quarantine has made it happen.”

The group’s first single from the project, “End of Daze,” dropped yesterday. JID teased the single originally on his Instagram live in February, which stirred up quite a bit of excitement among fans. Earlier this week, each respective member of the collective and other collaborators on the song announced the imminent release of the single in the form of the cover art for the project and a short, 10 second clip from the music video.

The track was produced in collaboration with Mike Dean, Nice Rec, Johnny Venus, Jay Card and Elite. The nature of the single encapsulates the essence of 2020 as we know it thus far. The video, directed by Caleb Seales, is set in the woods of what one can only imagine to be Georgia, where Hollywood JB, Benji, Jurdan Bryant, JID, Wowgr8 and Johnny Venus all perch on a couch planted in front of an old school TV. As each artist passes the figurative mic (remote) with frustration and exasperation as the channels continue to switch– showing visuals of current and recent events. Breonna Taylor’s face is the first clip we see, followed by Amaud Arbery, and continuing throughout the video are clips from protests demanding justice and other revelatory events to have taken place this year. Mereba comes across the screen, speaking her peace (!) in front of an ominous ring of fire.

Perhaps the most chilling shot is of Johnny Venus lying on a tree trunk, playing the guitar. As the shot hones in on the artist, the guitar is switched out for an AR-15, which he continues to strum as he croons, “Why do we give on the surface, when our hearts search for the deep?”

If nothing else, this single is the epitome of perfect timing. 10/10

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Interviews

AyeGritty is Figuring It Out

Naptown Native, 25-year old AyeGritty, or Aaron Grinter, is a perfect exemplification of what it means to have all irons in the fire. From theater to comedy and music– Gritty is all over Indianapolis. Gritty’s genre-bending full-length, Figuring It Out, dropped in April of this year. I had the opportunity to sit down with the artist over tacos– to discuss his past, present and future as a creative.

In one of the earlier songs released with Gritty ‘n’ Craft (a performative amalgamation of hip-hop, comedy, and dance with fellow creative, Joshua Short), “In the Cut,” Gritty wrote in reference to his relationship with music, “This is Plan A, I don’t believe in Plan B.” When asked at what point he decided music was his Plan A, Gritty said, “I always had an innate love for music—that shit was always in me,” stopping to take a swig of his Dos Equis, “I was raised Jehovah’s witness, and being raised that way, I never thought that I would be able to pursue music… Back when rapping was all about the bars and shit, I would take rap songs and sing the words– it’s funny watching how the game has transitioned to be so melodic. I have a love for good music, and my mom and pops brought me up on good music.” When asked about his musical influence, Gritty mentioned a slew of artists, ranging from legendary artists like Prince to alternative artists, like Toro y Moi and APRIL + VISTA.


Figuring It Out has had positive reception among listeners, myself included. A particularly gripping track on the project, “$31.35,” seems to be a letter of manifestation to the universe, that this artist’s time is coming. When asked about the visualization of the peak of success and what it looks like for Gritty, he said, “The peak of success isn’t a goal of money or reaching certain material things or certain accolades—I do hope to achieve those things because I hope to be great enough to warrant those things.”

For the artist, the peak of success is more internal rather than external: “It’s not necessarily about the way that people view me, but about the way I’m able to affect change in the world.” When asked to elaborate on the kinds of change he’s hoping to make, he said, “I come from a broken people, and a broken system, especially being Black.” Gritty continues, saying, “We got a late start—we started way behind the 8 ball and there’s been a very concentrated effort to keep us there. I think success looks a lot like being able to affect positive change in Black people and oppressed people everywhere.” Gritty makes his point by leveling with me, “There’s things about being Black that you’ll never understand and there’s things about being a woman that I’ll never understand. Making change for the people who need it– I think if you have those abilities, it’s an empty life if you just use it for yourself.” The artist hopes to reach a certain type of immortality, in the form of positive change: “I hope it’s something that is able to live on way after my body is gone; I hope that my spirit and my energy will still be able to affect the world way after I’m gone.”

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Look & Listen

Hip Hop Twitter: An Alternate Dimension

A few months ago, I decided to make a second account on twitter, strictly for hip hop (I worried my friends on my main account would grow tired or annoyed with my incessant posting about music– and with everything else going on in the world, I needed something to stimulate my brain). This eventually sparked the inspiration for The Greater Good.

So I made an offhand username and chose a meme of Bart Simpson wearing headphones with what might be a blunt in his hand as my profile picture, because I felt that was just the right vibe. Once I got my account set up, I was already overwhelmed– I didn’t really know where to start. I followed my favorite artists and sought out fellow discussion accounts. I’m not sure if you’re aware (I wasn’t) but a good portion of the hip hop discussion accounts you see on Twitter are run by younger people—I’m talking teenage kids.

In my first week, I was invited to a private group chat with 43 other accounts—let that sit on your mind for a second. 43 accounts, in a group chat. To say the least, I lasted about a week before I had to Irish exit out of that group chat, due to social anxiety and just being overwhelmed by the frequency with which that group chat was popping off. But in the time I spent there, I learned a lot—a lot about the people who are listening. Here’s what I learned:

  1. Hip Hop has major international reach. I was confused at first because it seemed like this group chat never slept—until I realized we were all in different time zones. There were people from all over in this online community.
  2. If you have Bart Simpson as your avatar, it is automatically assumed that you are a “bro.” I was fine with this, though it was interesting that I felt my opinion was taken a little more seriously when people came to their own conclusions that I was a dude. I didn’t bother correcting them most of the time, because what does it matter? I wasn’t pretending to be someone I wasn’t, I just didn’t care because it wasn’t about that.
  3. I saw a lot of myself in these users—at one point, a question was asked in the chat by an account with a picture of JID as their avatar: “Does anyone in your real life know about your account?” which was met with an overwhelming response of “absolutely not.” One user said, “I don’t know anyone in my real life who likes music as much as I do.” Another user with a picture of Mick Jenkins as their avatar said, “People got sick of me talking about music on my main account.” (Felt that.) Another said, “All my friends are here, not out there.” This softened my cold, hard heart. These are people, the majority of which are in their formative years, searching for a place in the world, guided by their love of music. In the words of Naptown Native, AyeGritty, “I thought I had lost my mind, found that shit between some headphones.”
  4. The energy between these users is unmatched—imagine you spoke a language that no one in your physical life understood, imagine how isolating that can be. Now imagine that you found a place– a homeland if you would—where you finally felt understood. That’s what it’s like for these fans. Social media can be detrimental to mental health, there is no question about that, but have you considered that social media may be a place of escape for some? I learned a lot about these people and their physical lives, and sometimes you need (and deserve) an escape from reality.
  5. It’s also a wonderful place to network. At one point in this group chat, everyone was dropping links to their own artistic endeavors—graphic design, blogs, beats, etc. There is power in that.
  6. Hip Hop Twitter NEEDS new artists to talk about. Somehow, I was tasked with creating a joint playlist for the group. There’s definitely an eclectic blend of sounds on this playlist, but a lot of artist repeats. With that being said, if you are an artist looking to grow your audience and you’re not engaging with fans of the genre, you’re missing out on an opportunity. They need you just as much as you need them.
  7. There are people out there who actually think Some Rap Songs is a 9/10 project. I know. But who am I to tell them any different? We all need to feel heard, and art is subjective, not objective—your taste is your own and you do not have to justify it.

My journey through Hip Hop Twitter continues, and I will continue to update the blog on my experiences.

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Reviews

Review: Kota the Friend – EVERYTHING

Brooklyn-based independent Kota the Friend dropped his sophomore album, Everything, at midnight. Kota stirred something up in the hip hop community when he released his first full-length album, FOTO, a year ago. The album put him in the spotlight as someone to keep an eye on in the future. 

Kota teased the release of Everything with “B.Q.E,” which dropped on the 1st of this month, and features fellow Brooklyn native Joey Bada$$ and Dreamville contender, Bas. The single sparked heavy interest and anticipation among many for the project. Kota also released a video for a bonus verse he wrote for the single that truly reflects today’s cultural atmosphere.

The album begins with saxophone-laden  “Summerhouse,” which Kota teased then deleted on his Instagram prior to the release. The initial track prepares you for the rest of the project, letting us know exactly what we’re tuning in for, with pure-spirited lyrics like “Open your mind, turn on the vibe and get off the internet.” (For the sake of this review, please stay on the internet until you’ve finished reading.)

The 37-minute long LP seems to be a sequel to Kota’s 2018 EP, Anything, which carries a similar theme of stopping to smell the roses. Kota spoke about the project in an interview with UPROXX, saying, “…this album, I’m pretty much talking about all the things that I want, what means everything to me, what’s important to me, and what I put before everything else. We have other people on the album — fans, actors, and artists — just talking about what means everything to them on the interludes.” There are three interludes on the album, two of which feature the undoubtedly talented and introspective Lupita Nyong’o and triple-threat, Lakeith Stanfield. On one of those interludes,”Seven,” Kota speaks on the importance of separating the art from the artist, and staying humble in order to focus on what’s first and foremost for him– his son.

His son also makes a few appearances on the project, including the final and title track, where Kota makes a clever nod to his previous works: “And you free now, go fly fly, under palm trees sippin’ mai tais/ On Paloma beach, doing anythin’ in my photo book full of everything.”

Everything is a project with a purpose. Overall rating: 7.9/10
Favorite tracks: Summerhouse, Always Park, Volvo, Everything

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Reviews

Review: Growing Teeth – WizTheMC

An excerpt from WizTheMC’s website describes the story of the first verse he ever wrote: “…So we downloaded a beat from youtube and wrote something down for a couple minutes, recorded it and it turnt out to be complete TRASH, but we felt like 2 chainz and Tyga and that’s all that matters. HOW YOU FEEL about it.” WizTheMC is the self-described “black Shawn Mendes with an edge,” a moniker with which I would have to agree.  

On Growing Teeth, Wiz’s gentle vocals and raps over beachy beats on tracks like “The One” and “Fear of Heights” set the tone for the project—this album may have been released in January, but if this isn’t a summer vibe, I truly don’t know what is. In fact, a common theme throughout the album is water, only lending to my assumption that this album was meant to be listened to in the dog days.

WizTheMC, or Sanele, was born in South Africa, raised in Germany and made the trek overseas to Canada in 2016 to follow his dream of making music. On “Take Me,” Wiz raps about the experience with witticism. In the first verse, he makes a nod to a mindset found to be fairly common among young artists without guidance, “I do what I can, and avoid what I can’t/ So it looks to everybody like I’m doing my best/ Posting old tracks while I’m still layin’ in bed/ ‘Cause in reality I’m rarely working, I’m just in my head/ Oh yeah, true, I rap, sometimes I just forget/ ‘Cause my mind is not where theirs is, I guess.”

The ten-track project was produced by Hugo, with the exception of “One Problem,” which was produced in collaboration with Wolfskind. The project itself seems a bit more grown than the title suggests; on tracks like “Blind” and “Demons,” the 21-year old addresses the difficulties of paving your own way, and maintaining individuality in life, in art, and in relationships. On “Demons,” Wiz sings about another common concern within the music industry, especially for up and coming artists growing their teeth, so to speak—clout, and those who chase it. It’s recommended to listen to this song in the car—don’t ask questions, just trust me. Sometimes, you just gotta let the music speak for itself.

Growing Teeth is short and sweet, and definitely worth a listen. HOW I FEEL about it: 8.1/10, I look forward to seeing how he grows as an artist in the future.

Read Sanele’s story on his website: https://www.wizthemc.com/story

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Reviews

Review: Bishop Nehru – Nehruvia: My Disregarded Thoughts

Just a few months after his February release, Nehruvian Tuesdays: Vol, 1, 23 year old Bishop Nehru dropped his second project of the year, Nehruvia: My Disregarded Thoughts. Nehru speaks on the title of this project on his artist Bandcamp: “I knew I wanted to make a concept record about what it takes to free yourself from mental enslavement.”

The project starts off with a cryptic introduction, “Colder,” as he begins with spoken word, setting the scene for us: “It was a cold and breezy fall afternoon. The wind blew at a velocity that could make the sound of a screeching halt. As a man proceeds on his walk home, there’s an intuitive feeling following him, as a lion does an unaware gazelle. A tingling feeling that makes him feel as if he’s exactly where he needs to be.” Over an ominous beat, Nehru walks us through the complexities of his experience living as a black man in today’s “modern world,” barely scratching the surface of social commentary and armchair activism with bars like: “…it’s a lot of people don’t wanna open their mind to see/ They want me mad, ’cause cops drop us within a week/ But it’s nothin’ new, it’s just now you can send a tweet.”

The album has many valleys and swells, like our own disregarded thoughts, lending to the theme of the album. From DJ-Premier-produced “Too Lost” to reunion with old friend and mentor, MF DOOM, on “MEATHEAD,” it’s almost as if Nehru is telling his audience, “Don’t get too comfortable.”

 With reflective trap-style tracks like “In My Zone” and “EMPEROR,” which were most definitely meant to be heard in the whip, Nehru showcases his versatility—continuing the trend of sonic adaptability (a fancy way of saying he bodied these beats) with poetic vocals and prose over some might-y jazzy beats on “All of My Years” and “Me & My Thoughts.”

If I could, I would write a 3000 word review for this album, that’s how intricate it seems to me. I will say that this project was a grower for me. If I had written this review off my first listen: a solid 8/10. After a few more spins, you notice different things and appreciate different aspects, much like any other piece of music. In terms of understanding the themes in this project and to appreciate it for what it was meant to be, final overall rating: 8.9/10

Read more about Bishop Nehru’s album here: https://bishopnehru.bandcamp.com/album/nehruvia-my-disregarded-thoughts

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Reviews

Review: Deante’ Hitchcock – BETTER

After hearing Deante’ Hitchcock’s first two singles from his debut with RCA Records, BETTER, I was optimistically anticipating this release. His first single from the project, the R&B-infused “How TF” with East Atlanta-raised 6lack, dropped in November of last year. Then, just a month before the album’s release, RCA dropped the second single– the high-powered underdog cash anthem, “I Got Money Now” with fast-talking wordsmith, JID. The release of this particular single couldn’t have come at a more perfect time; in the same week, the US government began rolling out its first round of stimulus checks, and it seemed people all over were singing, “I was having withdrawals, now I’m at the bank, making deposits.” (Maybe that was just me?)

Fast forward to this past Wednesday, the album’s official release on all platforms. The project starts off strong with “I Remember,” no doubt setting the tone for the rest of the album. The track order was a little disappointing; Hitchcock comes in heavy with every feature on the album in the first half. Maybe it’s personal preference, but spreading the features out could’ve sent this album over the edge to 8/10. I’d say the album is exactly what you’d expect from a gritty Atlanta rapper, but the project is multi-faceted with heartfelt lyrical tracks like “Growing Up/Mother God” intertwined with sample-rich ear-candy like “Circles.”

Hitchcock wraps the album up with “Angels,” which is one of the strongest tracks on the project, with a beat switch halfway through the song that begs you to say “Hold on, run that shit back.”

All in all, this project is worth a listen, or two, or three. Overall rating: 7.8/10

Deante Hitchcock – BETTER album credits