Elah Hale, 20-year old New York native released her debut EP, Room 206, with Interscope in April. “Room 206 was my sophomore dorm room in college,” the artist said in an interview with DJ Booth, “There were so many moments in that room… I decided to sign my publishing deal; I agreed to work with my management. All the big milestones happened in that room, I wanted to honor that time.”
The project begins on a swell, with “Saab,” which is exactly the kind of song you’re likely to find yourself walking down the street to, with your headphones on and the sun on your face, just to have you reminiscing an experience you might have never even had. The intro is brief– less than two minutes long– but foreshadows the roller coaster ahead of us.
The EP continues the trend on an emotional upswing with the lightest track on the project, “My House.” The artist has said of the track, “It’s the true ‘fun’ song, and I feel like I haven’t done a fun song ever.” Keeping up the fun, the artist released a particularly amusing music video for the track, where she’s seen flirting with a mannequin on a tennis court, clumsily waxing her legs and drinking wine in a bathtub with not a jewel out of place.
The cornerstone to any good project with purpose is its variety and flow, its peaks and valleys; with every optimistic incline, a soul-stirring decline inevitably follows. With Room 206, our decline begins with the poignant “Impatient,” a synth-heavy and somber track on which the artist contemplates clinging to a love with which she’s quickly losing her grip. The misleading sanguine beat in conjunction with impassioned lyrics like, “I’m on my knees, I swear that it’s the right time,” will indeed have you coming back for a second helping of agony.
Room 206 makes the transition from decline to a slow and smooth incline with ease, flowing into the next track, “Posters.” This bedroom-pop track addresses a common practice among daters: ghosting.
The artist’s lane of R&B is that of a melancholy tone; on particularly somber tracks like “one star rating,” “Way Down,” and “Holding You Close,” the artist ruminates on teetering the line between being all in or nothing at all with a diminishing love. On the latter track, over a slow but stimulating beat, the artist solemnly comes to terms with a love lost, manifesting her own healing and declaring her own downfalls. With stunningly interwoven harmonies, she croons, “I think it’s time that I just let you go,” the heavy track ignites a slow burn that lingers long after the song ends. Watch the artist perform the song in an intimate live studio session:
Room 206 ends like it begins–a full circle event– on a sonic incline. Self-reflective “ITPA” drifts into a slow plateau with bittersweet “Gentle,” closing out this project with charm and polish, wrapped in a neat bow. 8/10
Seattle-born UMI released her second EP, Introspection, at midnight last night with J.J. Abrams’s independent-focused record label, Loud Robot. The 6-track EP comes after her 2019 project, Love Language. Like its predecessor, a visual EP dropped concurrently with the project, which the artist teased on Twitter, three days prior to the EP’s release.
The project was written in the times of isolation, during which the artist also began documenting her journey through “quarantine” in the form of vlogs on her YouTube channel.
Introspection begins with the title track, which was released as the EP’s first single in May. UMI’s hazy vocals over a languid beat prepares us for her insights throughout the EP: “Why I’m so afraid to fight back, I got a lot of shit to unpack,” reminding us that now is a great time to look within. The artist was quoted by Broadway World Music, saying the project is “…a look into my mind, how my brain sounds,” the artist continued, “I created this project with the intention to evoke Introspection, both in myself and in the listener. Introspection is a reflection of my inner journey over the past year, embodying my growth.”
The project continues with the EP’s remorseful second single, “Open Up.” On this track, the artist continues her inward-seeking journey of self-analysis, addressing her own emotional detachment in relationships and the guilt that comes along with prematurely closing a chapter due to fear.
Continuing the theme of mental health, UMI advises overcoming emotional barricades to allow for healthy vulnerability in “Where I Wander.” The artist croons, “No more time to loosen up yourself / No need to keep fighting what you’re dealt / You must take precaution in this Hell.” The track accentuates the importance of facing your fears head on. The following tracks, “Bet” and “Broken Bottles” seem to touch on the detriment of toxic egoism in relationships, romantic and familial.
The 21-year old artist has said she’s drawn heavy inspiration for her music from artists like SZA and Lauryn Hill. Although the derivative is evident, the young artist has managed to hone her own Neo-Soul sound while still paying homage to those who came before her. 8/10
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.