“When I see that I live off music, I sometimes say to myself, ‘Damn, little girl from years back, you really went on and did your shit.'”
With a sound accurately self-described as “smooth, like mango juice,” independent R&B artist K.ZIA prides herself on the ways that her Afro-European background permeates her sound. The artist traverses sonic standards and human emotion, cultivating songs like her latest, the delicate and soul-stirring “Damaged,” a track focused on one of the most difficult parts of human connection– knowing when to let go. The single follows disco-reminiscent “Goosebumps,” vastly different from the stripped, raw nature of “Damaged,” bringing to the foreground the artist’s versatility.
The uphill voyage of creating traction as an independent can sometimes feel insurmountable. K.ZIA is familiar with the amounts of work and time needed to be invested in order to feel accomplished in the music industry: “Being an independent artist is very hard. Especially when you are one that works alone,” she said, “I have to be the creator, the seller, the booker, the director, the administrator, the tour manager, the content creator, the patron… it’s a lot.”
With its own vicissitudes, the sense of accomplishment gained from having the ability to say “I did this on my own” can make certain goals seem a little more attainable and a little less intimidating. When asked about challenges she’s faced as an independent artist, K.ZIA says believing in herself and her art was a monumental step in the right direction: “I think it’s one of the hardest things in this industry. As an up and coming artist, fighting for something, and believing in your capacities and that you deserve a place somewhere is not always easy. I am grateful for my drive and determination.” She continues, “When I see that I live off music, I sometimes say to myself, ‘Damn, little girl from years back, you really went on and did your shit.‘”
K.ZIA released a visually stunning and poignant music video for “Goosebumps,” in February. Directed by Paulina Nurkowska, the video follows a tumultuous love triangle between three friends.
The artist fondly reminisces filming the video, saying, “What I particularly loved was the energy between the cast,” she continues, “So Georgette, Peer and Franz were three acquaintances (that are now friends) that I brought together and it just looked like they had been best friends for years. They directly clicked and a beautiful love story began naturally between them, without us even having to direct them or tell them about the dynamic much. Such a precious gift/shoot.”
When asked about the inspiration behind “Damaged,” K.ZIA said, “This song was written about 4 years ago. I was trying to get out of a very toxic relationship. There was a lot of love from the both of is, but there were also a lot of problematic things (co-dependency, lack of self confidence and projecting that on the other, lack of trust, lack of maturity, distance, expectations, language barrier etc.) Being young and with little experience, it was difficult for us to understand what was going on and especially, to let go of one another for the ‘greater good.'”
K.ZIA recently announced on Instagram that she’ll be releasing new music very soon. She told TGG, “I’ve written a few songs during quarantine,” and that a potential EP is in the works.
UK artist Ellie Dixon routes our journey to infinity and beyond with the her newest single, “Space Out.” This alt-pop certified banger hones in on the fine line between reality and fantasy. In addition to lyrical witticism, the DIY artist takes quirky craftsmanship to the next level, planting “sample easter eggs” throughout her production, collecting sounds from glass jars and microwave doors, among other things. If Marina and Still Woozy were to unite in creative collaboration, that brainchild would look a lot like Ellie Dixon’s “Space Out.”
In an email to The Greater Good, the artist recounted her experience with writing the song, which is jam-packed with interstellar wordplay: “It was an unusual writing process for me because I don’t tend to write in stages, but this song was born out of a verse I wrote for a music challenge at the start of lockdown.”
“I had a really good response to the lyrics and the flow of it and lots of people asked for me to release it, so I got to work on producing a backing and writing the rest of the song.”
It’s important to have an active imagination and to connect with your inner child as often as the opportunity presents itself, as without imagination, we would have no innovation. Dixon clarifies, “The term ‘spaced out’ can mean a lot of things for different people but for me it was more about when I get lost in my music-making and retreat into my own galaxy,” Dixon says, “This state of two halves where you feel detached but also find great creativity and fun can be born out of it.”
The artist continues, touching on the hidden blessing of being a creative with nothing but time on her hands, “In lockdown, I’ve been making music 24/7 as I’ve had no other commitments, so it’s been an excuse to constantly make content. It has been amazing because it’s a free pass to do what I love, but it can become all-consuming and I forget to ‘come back down to Earth’ which can result in burnout.”
The 21-year old self-managed artist isn’t in any rush to put out a full-length at the moment; she’s planning to utilize this time to craft her individual sound, saying, “I would love to release a full album but I’m currently playing with where my sound is taking me. I’m going to be working on lots of new material and I’m working on more collaborations with other artists, so if things start shaping up into cohesive projects then album ahoy!”
For now, you can unleash your inner child and tap into your own imagination with “Space Out!“
Newcastle-based alt-rock group, Cat Ryan released their single “Blessed Through the TV” last month. The track is an anomaly– a wonder-cluster of insightful lyricism in marriage with contemporary grittiness and Japanese orchestration.
The track’s lyrics focus on a one-foot-in, one-foot-out mentality. The group’s front-woman, Mary-Anne Murphy, spoke about the inspiration for the track– an angel figurine sent to her by her aunt– saying, “The Pope had done a mass blessing through the television, telling people to hold items up to the TV to be blessed. It didn’t quite make sense to me; it was almost a half-hearted blessing, and this sparked the ideas behind the song.”
Cat Ryan can be best described as neo-90s alternative rock. “Alternative” is somewhat of a broad term that often refers to music created outside of industry norms. Cat Ryan is alternative in the way that they’re able to capture and utilize experimental aspects of sound and fuse those findings together to create something out of the ordinary. This, in conjunction with well-rounded yet complex lyrical themes, is what sets this group apart. While sustaining independent ingenuity, the group draws inspiration from the likes of Wolf Alice and Vampire Weekend.
The creative brainchild of members Simon Tarbox, Lucas Rothwell, and Mary-Anne Murphy, Cat Ryan originated at Newcastle University. The group’s inception, as described by Murphy in an email to The Greater Good, was kismet: “Simon and I are studying the same course and were talking about music. He said he played guitar, but Lucas had already joined as lead guitarist – turned out that Simon also plays drums, so he became the drummer of Cat Ryan.”
According to the band’s manager, Jay Landman, “There are plans to compile both an EP and an album, but these are both in the development stages currently, so another single is most likely to be the next step.” For now, you can bless your ears with “Blessed Through the TV.”
For Donna Missal, music was a generational inheritance; her father was a songwriter and musician who owned Shelter Studios in the 80s, her grandmother was also a songwriter. Missal released her second album, Lighter with Harvest Records, owned by Capitol Music Group, at midnight last night. Lighter follows the artist’s 2018 album, This Time. With Lighter, Missal walks us through her journey with a traumatic breakup. In an interview with Shania Twain (!) for Interview Magazine, Missal spoke about the album, saying, “I was concerned when I was writing the record, getting towards the end of the process thinking, ‘Is this what people need right now? Am I serving a purpose that I can stand behind?’ I realized that by being as vulnerable and honest as possible and putting my shit out there—that would probably be what someone needs more than anything else that I could offer as a person or as an artist.”
As we jump into Lighter, we’re met with the project’s first two singles, “How Does It Feel,” and “Hurt By You.” Both tracks give you a feel for what you’re to expect as the album continues: impassioned realizations of newfound independence and loss combined with vengeful lyricism and themes.
I’m sure we’re all familiar with just how ugly breakups can be; it can be hard to maintain humility or dignity after ending things, as jealousy, unaddressed trauma, and feelings of abandonment or guilt rise to the surface. On the booming ballad, “Carefully,” Missal makes an emotional plea for respect post-breakup. The artist belts with an overwhelming amount of fervor on the bridge, “The risk you convinced me to take / Gave you everything that I had / Now what’d you expect me to say? / When you let me slip from your hands,” bearing her bleeding heart for all to see. All I can really say about this song is “whew.”
On Lighter, we’re really being taken through the different stages of grief with tracks fueled by denial like “Best Friend,” and bargaining with “Who Loves You,” intertwined with tracks of acceptance, like heart-rending “Slow Motion.” The artist, with her heart on her sleeve, proves there’s beauty in vulnerability and the acknowledgement of human flaw.
Another stage of grief is anger, and let me tell you, there is plenty to spare on this record. The introspective and painfully cognizant “Let You Let Me Down” and the intrepid sleeper hit “Just Like You,” are jaded displays of the bitter aftertaste a traumatic breakup can leave behind.
The project ends on a “to be continued,” as Missal’s grief persists with an admission of fear of moving on with the final track, “I’m Not Ready.”
To be quite honest, you don’t feel much lighter after listening to Lighter, so I would recommend checking your own emotional stability before jumping in the passenger seat of Donna Missal’s wild ride. Lighter is an exhibition of raw vulnerability while mourning a loss, and ultimately highlights the ways in which music can ease the healing process. 7/10
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.
“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
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.”
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:
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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