The Rise of the Self-Serious Rappers

Categories: Essay

Freddie Gibbs' PiƱata
Ta Nehisi-Coates' short profile of MF Doom, published in The New Yorker in 2009, finds the rapper describing his writing process:

"When I'm doing a Doom record, I'm arranging it, I'm finding the voices. . . . All I have to do is listen to it and think, Oh shit, that will be funny. I write down whatever would be funny, and get as many 'whatever would' funnies in a row and find a way to make them all fit. There's a certain science to it. In a relatively small period of time, you want it to be, That's funny, that's funny, that's funny, that's funny. I liken it to comedy standup."

Almost exactly five years since that profile was published, Doom's stylistics have seeped into every creak and crevasse of modern-day independent rap, his wild internal rhyme schemes and topical schizophrenia visible in the rhymes of everyone from the Left Coast's Earl Sweatshirt to NYC's own Joey Bada$$. But one thing that sometimes seems as if it's been lost in translation, at least judging by some of this year's best independent rap projects is that sense of rap as a comedic art form.

See also: The Top 20 NYC Rap Albums of All Time: The Complete List

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Between Heaven and Hell: Ariana Grande and My Everything

Categories: Essay

Ariana Grande is in purgatory. That's the major takeaway from her endlessly listenable sophomore album, My Everything, which, for all its hits (I count at least two more potential radio cuts after the trio of "Problem," "Break Free," and "Bang Bang") still finds the 21 year old without a firm identity or even one you can sum up in a single sentence. Near every song on the album finds her torn between two poles.

Her love life tends to find her sitting on a precipice, unsure whether to DTMFA, as Dan Savage would have it, or to commit to something more. But Grande, a lapsed Catholic who's confessed to a belief in both ghosts and demons, can also sound as if she's quite literally hovering on edge between heaven and hell.

See also: How Not To Write About Female Musicians: A Handy Guide

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Finding the Poetry in Hip-Hop

Categories: Essay, New Yorkers

Homeboy Sandman | Photo by Lauren Jaslow
By the time I began studying English and creative writing at NYU, I had already started to identify myself as a poet. I lived and breathed poetry; it was the only way I could compute and make sense of my surroundings. Simultaneously, I was also an EDM head, before electronic music had become so wildly and widely popular again, and before EDM was really a term. But I was sick of the scene and asked my roommate to give me some new music. "Here," she said, "Why don't you give this a listen." She handed me a copy of Homeboy Sandman's album Actual Factual Pterodactyl.

See also: Homeboy Sandman Assembles New York Avengers

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Why Do I Listen to So Many White Guys with Guitars?

Categories: Essay

Credit: Natalie Zaro
HAIM has the whole girl power thing on lock
You learn a lot about yourself when you take a three-week road trip soundtracked by the 1200 or so songs that you keep on your iPhone. No matter who you're traveling with, you are bound to eventually exhaust all normal conversation topics, and your focus will inevitably shift to the songs that are accompanying you. I have always believed that you can tell a lot about a person based on their book or film collection, and I feel the same way about music libraries, too.

See also: On Default Genders, Dead Girlfriends, Politics, and Imagination

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On SZA, Ferguson, and the New Black

Categories: Essay

Credit: SSENSE
When Pharrell coined the term "New Black" earlier this year, he clearly didn't anticipate the backlash. Sitting across from billionaire Oprah Winfrey, riding the success of a worldwide number one record and a couple Grammy wins, the singer/producer was eager to dismiss the idea that being black had in any way put him at a disadvantage.

"The New Black doesn't blame other races for our issues," he explained. "The New Black dreams and realizes that it's not pigmentation: it's a mentality and it's either going to work for you or it's going to work against you. And you've got to pick the side you're going to be on."

See also: "The Assumption Is That I'm a Prop": On Being a Woman of Color in the Indie Music Scene

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"The Assumption Is That I'm a Prop": On Being a Woman of Color in the Indie Music Scene

Categories: Essay

Coming of age at post-hardcore, indie folk, lo-fi, twee shows in Pennsylvania, I never expected or looked for diversity on stage or in the crowd at shows. I had grown accustomed to being the only person of color in attendance. I was a child of the suburbs and used to existing in predominately, if not all, white spaces. In the latter days of my twenties, my experiences in the scene -- like being asked if I was a "halfie" by a girl in the Music Hall of Williamsburg bathroom or being assigned hip-hop coverage by editors once my ethnicity is made apparent -- have left me starved for more diversity. Whiteness and indie rock do not have to be inseparable, but the enforcement of that idea has made me contemplate how other women of color [WOC] in the scene have negotiated, navigated, and survived in the predominantly white landscape of indie rock.

See also: "This Is The Whitest Thing I've Ever Seen": Notes From a First Festival

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