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Look & Listen Reviews Roundups

2020: TGG Roundup

It should be no secret that creativity kept the majority of us afloat throughout a very tumultuous and traumatic year. With unforeseen obstacles around every corner, some new beast lurking and watching nearby, waiting for the right moment to pull the foundational Jenga piece right out from under, it was difficult to remain optimistic in the face of 2020. Today’s roundup is dedicated to the artists whose music kept me company during an emotionally, financially and socially grueling year.

A brief aside: With 2021 right around the corner, I’d like to take a moment for some mild sappiness to extend a hand of gratitude to this blog’s readers. I started TGG as a distraction from a lot of things I was struggling to face, and in turn was forced to face them in roundabout ways through music, introspection and discussion with a diverse group of people. With each roundup, it’s typical of me to mention the horrors of 2020, but without the trials of this year, you wouldn’t be reading today because this blog wouldn’t exist as it does in its current form. Thank you for reading, for the support and for continuing with me on this ride through 2021. Thank you to the artists for your submissions. May we all find ourselves sailing smoothly into the new year.

Back to business. Sadly, there will be no roundup for the month of December, but the roundup playlist has been updated in accordance to the month’s listens and releases. The autumn playlist has also officially transitioned to winter vibes, and will continue to be updated almost daily throughout the remainder of the season. Now, in no particular order, let’s get to the goods.

Synthetic Soul – Chiiild

A mysterious concoction of R&B, soul and synthesized pop results in 7-track EP, Synthetic Soul, the product of Montreal-based Chiiild. Virtually genre-less, Chiiild accelerates down a lane adjacent to Blood Orange or Tame Impala, where the point of focus falls mostly on the band’s sweeping instrumentals and sonic fluidity. We’re met with a gentle daydream of strings on the EP’s intro, “Count Me Out” which carry us through to the outro, “Easy On Yourself,” transforming into a luminous awakening.
Favorite tracks: “Pirouette,” “Hands Off Me”

SuperGood – Duckwrth

As mentioned in a previous roundup, Duckwrth’s major label debut is, essentially, a 44-minute long love letter to the ladies. Bridging gaps between pop, hip-hop, funk and soul, SuperGood is a fitting soundtrack for one’s romantic reverie. Duckwrth eclectically executes the manipulation of classic sounds paired with modernity with personality and catchy craftsmanship throughout the album. The project’s undisputed standout, “Kiss U Right Now” might find some religiously moisturizing their lips out of sheer anticipation of the mere possibility of a kiss.
Favorite Tracks: “Kiss U Right Now,” “SuperBounce”

To Myself – Baby Rose

Released in August, Baby Rose’s To Myself was a fitting conclusion to 2020’s Sad Girl Summer; the artist’s debut is a tender, simultaneously thunderous arrangement of truth and vulnerability. Pouring from an overflowing cup of talent and wisdom far beyond her years, Baby Rose’s velvety, rasping vocals sing tales of heartache and healing over somber, bluesy production on To Myself.
Favorite tracks: “Borderline,” “Show You”

The Circus – Mick Jenkins

Following 2018’s masterfully executed Pieces of a Man, The Circus admittedly pales in comparison but shines in its own right. If there’s one thing Mick Jenkins isn’t gonna do, it’s waste a word. If there’s one thing Mick Jenkins is gonna do, it’s monopolize any opportunity to contort and stretch a phrase with the utmost of ease. We’re smacked in the face with a reminder of just that on the project’s intro, “Same Ol,” where the rapper’s undeniable witticism is matched evenly with a bass-heavy Hit-Boy beat. A professional in the game of double entendre, Jenkins’s wordplay leaves The Circus in rotation for more than just a couple of spins. If you’re left wanting more, allow me to direct you to the cornucopia of songs lucky enough to have been blessed by a Jenkins feature this year. From alt-indie band Vansire’s “Central Time” to Kipp Stone’s “Sprague Street,” to name a couple, no one can say Jenkins hasn’t put in the work this year.
Favorite Tracks: “Different Scales,” “The Light”

Dance Without Me – DRAMA

If there’s anything DRAMA can do, it’s provide ample content for your breakup playlist. The Chicago-based electro-pop group released Dance Without Me, a body of work composed of upbeat songs contrasted by elegies of heartbreak, on Valentine’s Day. Two parts of a whole creates DRAMA: singer-songwriter Via Rose provides the whimsical lyricism and somber subject matter buoyed by producer Na’el Shehade’s golden touch. A valentine to those without a valentine, Dance Without Me requires you do just that– dance (and probably cry).
Favorite tracks: “7:04 AM,” “Good For Nothing”

“GED” – Lute

A tale of a humble come-up and letter of encouragement for all who are down bad, Lute’s “GED” was one of my most played songs this year. The single was released in February, following Lute’s debut with Dreamville, critically underrated West1996 Pt 2 and a particularly explosive verse on 2019’s Revenge of the Dreamers III‘s intro, “Under the Sun.” With Dreamville bankrolling your promotion, your resources are virtually limitless; as yet another act of clever marketing from the label, released with the single is the GED credit card.

Petrol Bloom – LAUREL

Sneaking in just under the wire, LAUREL released 5-track EP, Petrol Bloom just this month. The EP’s first two singles, “Scream Drive Faster” and “Best I Ever Had” received a lot of love from me upon release, so it’s only fitting that the UK vocal powerhouse and creative wunderkind made it to the final roundup. Differing vastly from her debut, Petrol Bloom is a retro-pop time warp adorned with colorful synths and LAUREL’s echoing, sometimes aching vocals.
Favorite tracks: “Best I Ever Had,” “Appetite”

Lost In June – Pip Millett

April showers bring May flowers with Pip Millett’s 8-track EP, Lost In June. The British singer-songwriter has been on the radar since her melancholic 2018 single, “Make Me Cry,” which still remains in rotation almost three years later. What sets Millett apart from the sometimes all-too-saturated world of UK neo-soul is the natural humanity and grace portrayed when delivering sweet and stirring vocals swaddled in emotionally profound lyricism. Why would anyone want to make Pip Millett cry? In order to gain a deeper understanding of something or someone, you must find the root. Millett pierces the veil with Lost In June, granting us an intimate peek at how and why she came to be the young woman she is today, paying homage and due retribution to her family and upbringing.
Favorite tracks: “Heavenly Mother,” “Ava”

Alfredo – Freddie Gibbs and The Alchemist

The recipe cooked up between Freddie Gibbs’ effortlessly audacious lyricism and The Alchemist’s collation of beats sprinkled with soul and jazz brings Alfredo to the table. A surprise serving of sustenance, the collaborative effort between two hip-hop heavy hitters set social media ablaze upon release. With the project’s intro, “1985,” we pull back the velvet curtain to reveal a dimly lit room in the back where Gibbs’s sustained flow permeates the air like a haze of smoke. Like flies on the wall, we watch as the sequence unfolds to reveal much more than meets the eye.
Favorite tracks: “1985,” “Something to Rap About”

New Me, Same Us – Little Dragon

Practiced and ever-evolving Little Dragon’s latest project finds the group at the intersection of funk and R&B, with Nagano crooning anecdotes of long-term growth and revelation. Formed in 1996, Little Dragon has journeyed through varying genres throughout the years, leaving some of their finest work on other artists’ projects. That isn’t the case with this album; a rose-colored bulb in the early days of the pandemic, New Me, Same Us was a soft light in the very dark room of 2020.
Favorite tracks: “Where You Belong,” “Water”

Circles – Mac Miller

Posthumous albums were, unfortunately, in high demand in 2020. Mac Miller’s Circles ultimately set the tone for the rest of the year with its January release; beginning our year in remembrance of loss, forecasting another 12 months of, well, loss. Barely a month prior to the artist’s untimely goodbye in 2018, Mac released Swimming, a project held very dearly to many. In a similar light, Circles— which was also produced in part by composer John Brion– is one to sit with and ponder a while.
Favorite tracks: “Right,” “Woods”

Spilligion – Spillage Village

The latest generation of Atlanta’s vanguard of hip-hop and neo-soul apostles ban together to bring us an offering of salvation in the form of 12-track Spilligion. The collective’s first project since 2016’s Bears Like This Too Much differs from the group’s Bears series, which can be described as chronological checkpoints for each artist; an outward display of their creative growth throughout the years. Spilligion preaches themes of family, spirituality, sex and weed and is bolstered by the project’s gather-round-the-campfire-style production.
Favorite tracks: “Oshun,” “Mecca”

BETTER – Deante’ Hitchcock

Deante’ Hitchcock’s debut album, BETTER, holds a very special position in TGG’s archives as the first published review on the blog. Read my full review and see how far (thankfully) we’ve come since then.
Favorite tracks: “Angels,” “Circles

For a more detailed overview of the year, peruse my 2020 playlist:

Categories
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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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: 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

Categories
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