In astrology, Mars is the god of war; the planet of energy, action and desire. When we think of Mars, the first phrase that should come to mind is “do it.” A testament to the unwavering energy of the planet, Louisville R&B freshman, Marzz released her debut EP Love Letterz with Keep Cool/RCA Records last month.
Written in the artist’s bevy of color-coded notebooks she keeps in her backpack to help process her synesthesia, the project is a collection of diary entries in the form of song. “I’ve come to a point in my life where I really don’t care what people say,” the artist stated in an interview with Uproxx, “I have to do this, I have to put my feelings out because if not, it’s going to eat me up alive.”
Co-written by Timbaland, “Cleopatra” exemplifies the artist’s commitment to truth, even when it’s hard– especially the second verse: “I haven’t seen you shine in a long time, why? / Guess that means I gotta give you space, then bye / I see your true colors, please don’t make me / Feel your emptiness, you know that ain’t me / I got way too much on my mind, yeah we / Ain’t going back ’cause that shit ain’t healthy.” After stumbling upon it purely on accident, the first listen of “Cleopatra” resulted in an embarrassing amount of head nodding and shoulder shaking. In the music video for the track, you hear Marzz’s voice accurately preface what’s to come: “You are now entering a vibe.” And oh, what a vibe it is.
From childhood, the artist has used her color method to process and express her emotions as well. In an interview with Women In Pop, she dove into each color’s meaning, saying, “Blue is for when I’m excited. Purple is when I’m anxious, yellow’s when I’m sad, red is when I’m angry.” She continued, “I know for a fact that my red notebook was definitely my favorite. I used to write in that and whenever I got mad– I was never a verbal person –I’d hold my notebook up and be like, ‘No, listen, this is why I’m mad!’”
Marzz describes “Countless Times,” the latest single from the EP, as red and purple, saying, “You’re seeing a lot of anxiousness, a lot of worry. It was definitely a lot of draining emotion that definitely put a toll on me.” The track describes being on the precipice of the decision of whether to stay or walk away from an up-and-down relationship. “I know what I want now. The way that I want to be treated,” she stated, “I’m putting in the love and respect that I would want in return. I definitely believe in karma, so I feel like the good energy you put out is the good energy that you receive.”
Sad Girl Summer is in full swing, and once again, Charlotte Day Wilsonhas provided a most fitting soundtrack.
The R&B singer and producer released Alpha, her debut full-length album on July 9th. Clocking in at 33 minutes with 11 tracks, Alpha showcases not only the artist’s silky voice and solemn songwriting ability, but her undeniable brilliance as a producer.
CDW has a knack for accurately emulating otherwise difficult-to-process emotions through the layered production that she executes. Produced and written solely by Wilson, the project’s intro, “Strangers,” is a perfect example of this. The track begins with the recurring press of a single piano key, gently swaddled by an overlay of somewhat distorted vocal harmonies, as more strings bleed and blend into the lyrics: “Girl, you’ve got to listen please, as I talk in my dreams / As I speak a illegibly / Apologize if I can’t come to you coherently / As I feel this weight in me.” The song as a whole encapsulates the final gasps of forlorn one feels in a love unrequited before acceptance.
It’s almost impossible to understand just how Wilson is able to evoke such complex emotions through music. There is a natural talent there that isn’t easy to dial down to a definitive source, even for the artist herself. “It’s strange because I’m kind of a quiet person. I really don’t like public speaking; words aren’t always my friend,” the artist said in an interview with Billboard. “And then when I’m singing, for some reason I find that clarity when I’m mixing words with melodies. I find that I’m able to communicate ideas that I can’t communicate without music.”
Another thing CDW would like us to be aware of is the fact that these are songs of love that isn’t heteronormative. In a 2018 interview with Vice, the artist spoke about the lack of lesbian representation in music, saying, “I don’t think a lot of women are singing about their lesbian love to R&B. I don’t know if I’ve heard that that much.” There is a void within the industry that’s slowly being filled with romantic love between women that isn’t overtly sexual nor cleverly cloaked queer bait.
She continues, saying, “If you know that I’m gay, you’re like, ‘this is a little more interesting’—there’s another layer of identity and sexuality that’s happening.” Thanks to Wilson and other artists like Syd (who is also featured on “Take Care of You“), and Deb Never, songs written about same sex love are becoming more normalized within the industry. At its core, CDW’s music can be universally understood by anyone who’s ever been lucky enough to experience the spoils of love and the growth that heartache can incur.
The emotion behind “If I Could” is a testament to Wilson’s human identity, sexuality aside. Written by Merna Bishouty and produced by Wilson and Jack Rochon, “If I Could” is a stripped-down track that Wilson fancies as a letter to her younger self. “I felt a deep and immediate connection to Merna’s perspective on the desire to protect and save someone from their demons, and I was honored to collaborate with her on the song,” the artist stated in a press release for the music video. The music video features poetry by Mustafa, fellow musician and good friend of Wilson.
Although Wilson has proven her ability to create magic unaccompanied, she is no stranger to collaboration. The project features an interlude written and performed by Daniel Caesar with Wilson providing backup vocals. “…When I heard his verse just on its own with nothing underneath it, I was like, ‘This is just so powerful and would be a perfect moment in between ‘Mountains’ and ‘Changes,”” the artist told Billboard, “And I mean, his lyrics are very beautiful, and they’re personal to him, and I feel like they also speak to me, so I just felt like it fit perfectly on the record.”
Co-written by industry legend Babyface, and featuring the backing vocals of Caesar, CDW released “Mountains” in 2019. Produced by Wilson herself with additional production by D’Mile, “Mountains” is steeped in gospel and drenched in torment, making it the most emotive track on the album by far. The sound of streaming water and gentle piano keys open the track as the chorus creeps in with increasing intensity: “Up on a mountain / Search through the valley / Can you hear me calling? / Won’t you come find me?” The track is chalked full of The Good Stuff we call peaks and valleys, no pun intended.
The latest single from the album, “Keep Moving” navigates the abstract minefield of subtle rejection and portrays the evolution we make from desperation to acceptance in due course. When it feels like something is slipping right through your fingertips, eventually you’re forced to come to a place of acceptance; you begin to accept that what once was is no longer, no matter how hard you may try to bring it back. “I came to collide, but you grip in case / You just wanna fall back, babe / I need you to love me like that, babe,” CDW croons on the second verse.
The track’s own production somehow captures the hesitation felt before making the reluctant decision of forward motion away from a relationship. “While you might want something, it might not be the best thing for you,” the artist said of the song in an interview with VMP. “I tend to be a cerebral person,” she continued, “and I’ll sit and think about things forever and, for me, it was kind of just a reminder to get out of my head and make sure I continue to actually live in the real world and not only in my head, and just, yeah, keep moving.”
Imagine hovering just a few inches above the ground, donning a pearly-white smile with a far-off look in your eye, a gentle hum of strings following you wherever you find yourself. This is how I envision neo-soul songstress, Mereba, drifting through her day-to-day life. The Philadelphia native released an equally ethereal EP last month. 7 tracks of musings tinted in beguiling shades of hazel and cinnamon, AZEB follows Mereba’s 2018 album, The Jungle is the Only Way Out.
There are three common themes spread throughout the EP: war, peace and gold. “Aye, aye, it’s a war like every day / Keep my gold up in my safe / They won’t bring me to my knees,” Mereba croons on the project’s intro, “Aye.” On the track, the artist navigates combat while clinging to pacifism: “I’m tryna master peace / Please don’t you disturb me / Your weapons can’t hurt me / My essence is shot-proof.”
AZEB‘s minimalist approach to production leaves plenty of space for Mereba to do what she does best: flex her songwriting talent. AZEB is laden with social commentary cloaked in and intertwined with poetry, a skill that Mereba executes better than many songwriters today. The artist’s folkloric songwriting ability is the brush she uses to paint dark realities a golden hue. This has been proven true with previous tracks like TJITOWO’s “Heatwave” and “Black Truck.”
The music video for the EP’s first single, “Rider,” sees Mereba and company in the middle of a barren desert landscape. The scene is almost dystopian, like a crew of drifters seeking refuge in a post-apocalyptic era. The song itself is a declaration of commitment to a deserving lover: “I needed a real one/ Call me if you’re on the run / You knew just what it was / I knew just what it was / We knew that it was love.”
References of gold are generously sprinkled throughout AZEB. Similar to Mick Jenkins’s proclivity for drinking more water, gold to Mereba is representative of pure, all-encompassing love. “I want to remind people of love, too. The very thing we deserve the right to do, and to be,” the artist has stated. On “Go(l)d,” Mereba solidifies this deduction by equating it to being “like a lighthouse in a blackout,” even as “the world we know, it went up in smoke.”
“Beretta,” my personal favorite track on the project, is a song gilded in optimism and commitment: “If this ink could seep into your cerebellum / I would so eloquently scribe my feelings unto thee / So that you would never not remember / But lemme see, if the way I feel for you is reciprocated too.”
“Another Kin,” the project’s only interlude, highlights the mental and emotional fatigue of seeing death day in and day out. Clocking in at just one minute and eighteen seconds, “Another Kin” is a gentle proclamation of how grief has become a daily occurrence for people of color. “News Come” is a more in-depth plea, rather– demand, for social and racial justice, equality and a call for reparations: “I’m done being nervous / When they see us switch lanes and swerve it / Ah, we’re diamonds under the dirt here / System don’t deserve us.”
The title of the project, AZEB, is Mereba’s middle name. The word is an Amharic term for the very point in which the sun rises. With this project, one can assume Mereba hopes to not only shed light on systems that directly affect her and many others but to also bring light and precious gold to those who may be stuck in the dark.
Hailing from Denton, TX, sister duo, Eaglin, released their latest single, “Maybe (We’ll Get Better Soon)” last month. The single is a goosebumps-inducing, blues-infused ballad that somehow sounds the way that homesickness feels, with an incredibly captivating bridge that will, without a shadow of a doubt, have you singing, “Thinkin! About you! Brings a smile to my face, even now.” The track was blessed by the hands of Grammy award winner McKenzie Smith and lauded guitarist Joey McClellan. When the single popped up in my inbox, I decided I would be remiss if I didn’t try to make contact.
“Maybe (We’ll Get Better Soon)” is an ode to the pandemic in a way. Societal anxiety of the unknown became the cultural norm during the early days of the pandemic, which in turn, became a breeding ground for creativity for many artists. We have a cocktail of isolated free time and spiraling thoughts to thank for a good portion of the creativity that has been displayed in the last 15ish months. Eaglin is no exception to that.
“I was laying outside at my family’s home in Texas, with the sun shining down, after being cold in New York for the past 6 months,” Bailee said, painting the picture of how the track was written. “There was a moment where I felt so hopeful for the future and what the next year might bring following the grim, sad reality the pandemic was sure to bring. I also remember feeling so unbelievably grateful to be at home with my parents and sister,” she continued, “I was missing friends who were far away but I knew there’d be a day when we could reconnect and thought about how sweet it would be.”
Kenzie offers a more melancholy and less optimistic perspective to the track. “When I wrote the second verse,” Kenzie stated, “I was feeling some emotions that were dark and confusing, and I feel as though this song paraphrased those feelings, which resulted in a beautiful body of work.”
Eaglin released “Maybe” as a follow-up to “Vanilla,” which was released back in February. The tracks differ vastly in sound and subject matter, as “Vanilla” is a sweeter-than-candy pop-rock track. Eaglin’s self-titled debut EP, set to release later this month, will be an exhibition of their sweeping wingspan of talent. When asked what to expect of the debut, Bailee stated, “A range of different sounds with one common thread: summer! We wanted to make a sunny, fun body of work that also showcases our different writing and music styles. We have a lot of influences, Kenzie has a lot of vocal range, so we didn’t hold back. We really think there’s something for everyone, here.”
Those influences that Bailee mentioned include practically their entire family. I’m talking the whole roost. “We have a large family and are blessed to have known our grandparents and even our great-grandparents,” Bailee said, “We are multiracial and ethnically diverse as a family, so we really had access to so many different cultural norms and traditions.”
Eaglin’s multicultural rearing heavily impacted their musical preferences, which vary in genre. “Being biracial in the 2000s really effected my music taste,” Kenzie said, “I grew up listening to what our parents grew up listening to, as well as new artists they were into. Our dad played gospel and R&B, while our mom was super into Aerosmith, Journey, and Celine Dion. This introduced me to different worlds of music at a very young age, and I’m forever grateful.”
Bailee and Kenzie were blessed from both sides of their family with the musical gene; the duo’s aunt is a respected gospel singer in Houston and their father grew up singing in church choirs, but no one has inspired these sisters like their mother. “Our mother is an incredible singer as well,” Bailee said, “She’s my biggest inspiration without a doubt.”
The familial inspiration doesn’t stop there, though. Bailee, 24, is a self-taught guitarist who picked up the instrument thanks to her aunt. “My moms sister, my aunt Amanda, if I really take a second to think about it, might’ve been one of my largest musical influences,” Bailee said, “She was always listening to the coolest albums and going to live shows. She’d take me to live rock concerts on week nights when no 6/7 year old on earth was probably out, and it absolutely shaped my perception of musicians and performance.” She continued, “She bought me my first guitar when I was six years old or something like that and signed me up for lessons.”
Despite taking lessons, Bailee struggled to hone her attention, saying, “I couldn’t sit still or focus on anything the instructor was trying to teach me, so I quit very soon after and would only pick up the guitar to pretend to play or try strumming along to something but I couldn’t read music, and I didn’t know any chords so I’d mainly pluck along with single notes. At ten, my uncle bought me a new guitar, and showed me a g chord. The rest was history! I played so much and began to write nearly every day.”
I asked the sisters what the next year has in store for them, as a duo and individually, and the two agreed on one thing: more music. “A year from now, I think we can count on several Eaglin projects that we are super proud of,” Bailee said. “We have plans for later this year that I can’t even believe we’re getting to share. Individually, I see myself someplace sunny, chugging along and continuing to expand the role of music in my life.” Kenzie plans to attend college in the fall, but says music will remain a high priority for her.
It’s pretty clear that 2021 has been a good year for women in R&B, starting strong with the release of Jazmine Sullivan’s Heaux Tales in January. Sullivan is one of a handful of artists effectively setting the precedent (and the bar awfully high) for others who fall into that category of music. Toronto-based vocal powerhouse, Shantel May gracefully rises to the challenge with the release of Don’t Let Them See You Cry. The EP is just a small appetizer for the 5-course meal that’s sure to come. Although there’s some push and pull throughout the EP– some tracks standing out more than others– Don’t Let Them See You Cry is an enticing introduction to Shantel May’s work.
With seemingly unending support from fellow R&B group, dvsn, May’s path to success is looking brighter and brighter. The duo also featured May on their third album, A Muse in Her Feelings. Nineteen85, dvsn member and award winning artist, produced May’s 2018 single, “Back n Forth,” which is also on the EP.
The tone of the EP is set within the first few seconds of the intro: “How the fuck do we have a conversation when all you do is lie?” Throughout Don’t Let Them See You Cry, Shantel May broaches the classic tropes of romance, sex and situationships. The 7-track EP ultimately highlights the artist’s growth of talent by featuring songs written and recorded years prior to the EP’s release intertwined with newly recorded tracks. The project truly excels in the second half with “Waiting,” the obvious standout (Warning: May’s vocals may cause chills and/or severe head-nodding) on the EP. Watch the video for the latest single from the EP, “Don’t Wanna Pretend,” below.
Folk singer-songwriter and Certified Sad Girl, Billie Marten released the second single from her upcoming sophomore album, Flora Fauna, in early April. “It’s an end of the world, post-apocalyptic scenario – you get to choose one thing, one person to leave it with,” Marten said in a statement about the single, “It’s a love song to a stranger and a polite request to momentarily leave Earth when it’s all too much.”
“Creature of Mine” begins like a soft breath, gentle and rhythmic, eventually building into a grand exhale of horns. The single has been in consistent rotation for me since its release, listening so often that I’ve found myself singing “makin’ looooooove’s not enoooooough” at any given moment for the past month.
“Creature of Mine” follows the album’s first single, “Garden of Eden,” which was released in January. The song is far more sanguine in nature as compared to previous (and much more melancholic) work by Marten. “I liked the idea of humans growing up like tomatoes in the greenhouse, needing water and oxygen and space, but not getting any of it,” Marten says of the song, “This was one of the first pivotal songs for me as the general sentiment breeds happiness and optimism, which is something I wasn’t particularly familiar with thus far.” Flora Fauna is set to release May 21.
If you haven’t heard about Paris Texas yet, I recommend heading for cover because they’re conjuring quite the storm. The duo began gaining recognition for their clever composition of hip-hop and grunge sound when they dropped their first single in February. Paris Texas has been promoting the release of their work with saturated, visceral clips on social media, showcasing their knack for providing captivating visuals and storylines to pair with their equally intriguing music.
Released concurrently with “Heavy Metal” is a horror-fueled music video, directed by Austin-Taylor Richburg. Rapped verses intertwined with distorted, riff-driven instrumentals is what you can expect from “Heavy Metal.”
Following “Heavy Metal,” Paris Texas released their second single, “Situations” in March. With this track, the group effectively banishes any category-based expectations by hand-selecting differing approaches to sound from varying genres, broadening their reach across audiences with a very unique delivery. In other words, it’s an absolute banger– top to bottom, start to finish. It’s the kind of song you might play after, say, robbing a bank. Directed and animated by World4Jack, the music video splendidly plays to our collective cultural love of all things nostalgic with PS1-reminiscent graphics and animation.
With the release of their latest single, “Force of Habit,” the Compton duo announced their debut album, Boy Anonymous, set to drop May 14. The music video for “Force of Habit” sees the two traversing the almighty Hamster Wheel we call life– inactively participating in the day-to-day mundane over, and over, and over again.
UK singer-songwriter, Sans Soucis released the first single from her upcoming EP, On Time For Her just a couple of weeks ago. Sans Soucis, or Guilia Grispino, humbly touts concepts of self-care and self-assurance through struggles with mental health in “I’m On.” The single is a redemption song and an accurate depiction of crawling back to the light after what may feel like an eternity in the darkness. “I’m ready to experience the world and enjoy my career path. A big part of my depression was that I felt less able to enjoy music, but after healing, I finally feel alive,” the artist stated in a press release.
The songwriter also touched on how her experiences with recovery and mental health have influenced the writing for her EP. “It’s such a cathartic realization acknowledging that there are things we are yet to discover about ourselves, and realities that we’re still yet to create,” Sans Soucis stated, “This EP feels like a new beginning.” On Time For Her is set to release later this year.
The artist has set the bar pretty high with previous work (listen: “Visible“), but she doesn’t disappoint with “I’m On.” The single’s music video sees the artist in various states of “on,” enjoying things we sometimes take for granted– the undervalued treasures of being in a decent headspace: dancing from room to room, enjoying a cup of tea, looking lovingly in the mirror, partaking in hobbies that bring us peace.
UK soul singer-songwriter, Celeste released her debut album, Not Your Muse just in time for Valentine’s Day. From the romantic cover art to the project’s overall themes of love and loss, Celeste and her team knew what they were doing when they released in late January. Celeste, who has been on the radar since 2018, has seen a steady and gradual career incline, with accolades building in her treasure chest by the pound. The 26-year old is bringing back sounds of old with jazz and blues influence and a one-of-a-kind voice. The artist credits the loss of her father as motivation and inspiration to further her passion for purpose and music, telling Evening Standard, “Until that point my life had been rosy to an extent. It shocked me. Then after that I had so much more drive to do something I cared about. I focused everything on doing music from that point.”
On the album’s intro, “Ideal Woman” we have Celeste’s velvety voice singing against societal standards of what embodies an ideal woman. Coincidentally, the track just so happens to be constructed just like my version of an ideal woman: unexplainably sensual and almost effortlessly commanding of attention with humility and grace. The track, produced by Josh Crocker and Charlie Hugall, is the perfect foreplay for the main event that is the rest of the album. From the slow creep of guitar and gentle, modest chimes to Celeste’s smooth-as-butter voice, “Ideal Woman” lets you think it’ll do one thing just to do something different entirely. Just as you expect a sonic or vocal swell, production slows and Celeste takes a right when you’ve anticipated a left, resulting in the unavoidable tap of the “repeat” button.
Following the intro is the project’s lead single, “Strange,” which was originally released in 2018 on the artist’s EP, Compilation 1.1. The track, which was previously featured on TGG, is what propelled Celeste into the spotlight, incurring international discussion of the artist’s future endeavors. The deluxe version of the album features the original, extended version of this track with an additional chorus and bridge. Recorded in LA during a wildfire, Celeste gives credence to the smoke in the air for the rasp heard in her voice at the time of recording. Those gravelly vocals gracefully escort us through a somber tale as old as time: the evolution of love and loss, by choice or by fate. Picking up the pace and picking our jaws up off the floor, upbeat singles, “Tonight Tonight” and “Stop This Flame” come next on the project. The video for “Stop This Flame,” a tune about keeping love alive, sees the colorful city of New Orleans painting the scene.
On Not Your Muse, Celeste brings different varieties of love– romantic, familial, self– to the forefront. The album’s title track is a slow burn that gradually grows into a raging fire. The zenith of the project, the song is placed smack dab in the middle of sequence. The record deconstructs the dated damsel-in-distress and manic-pixie-dream-girl tropes with a delicate nature and beautiful simplicity only Celeste can dispense. Tugging gently on our heartstrings, “Beloved” is a declaration of longing. On the track, Celeste croons a letter written to a love unrequited. With its almost adolescent yearning fueled by the purest of intentions, “Beloved” holds its place as my favorite track on this project.
Immediately following the gentle plucky instrumentation on “Beloved” comes horn-infused ear-candy “Love Is Back.” The impenetrable swagger heard on this track is succeeded by the haunting, drifting mystique found in “A Kiss.” Continuing the trend of romance, the next track, “The Promise,” is a pledge of recommitment to an old flame. The transition from one track to the next here is an example of what I like to call “peaks and valleys” in a body of work. Where there is a rise, there’s sure to be a fall. It’s almost as if Not Your Muse is its own breed of love story, with a prologue of self-love and self-acceptance, love coming and going throughout until finally, bittersweet acceptance with the project’s outro, “Some Goodbyes Come With Hellos.” With a damn near perfect debut, Celeste has managed to bust down the doors of 2021 with lyrical finesse and a natural talent that’s yet to be matched. Not Your Muse will remain in my personal rotation until further notice. If you’ve got time to sit down with the album, without distraction, I would highly recommend doing so.
Renaissance man and TGG favorite, Terrell Hines couldn’t have released his sardonic yet harrowing single “We’re All Gonna Be Killed” at a more appropriate time. The first single since his August debut, Portal One: The Mixtape, “‘We’re All Gonna Be Killed’ is just me reflecting on how sinister humans can be,” Hines stated in a press release, “Nothing is okay.”
Hines doles out harsh realities cloaked in satire shortly after the eerie and stripped intro, exposing our collective naïveté over a frenzied beat: “It was so many designs, the whole world they computing / stuck inside the parallel, goddamn, we hyper-looping.” Reflecting on the beast that is 2020, the artist brings darkness to light via his crystal ball on the second and final verse: “I don’t do politics, it’s all lawless / this is titanium mixed with rawness / yeah, I’m back like I never left / told me to tell you that you need help / sinister leaders that follow scripts / just a head with a body and nothing else.”
Released with the single is a burlesque-style music video in which Hines portrays a caricatural master of ceremonies in a top hat and white suit, akin to the White Rabbit. Directed by Danielle DeGrasse-Alston, the video features Hines governing wrestling matches between children while a door, left slightly ajar, leading to the “Death Room” looms in the background.
In the outro, the artist gives an inauspicious albeit cheery farewell: “See you next week– same time same place, but the way the social climate looks, we may never see each other again.”