Is it Just a Stunt?
I remember my first N.E.R.D concert when only a handful of knew them. From the Neptune’s, emerged the funky twist of a beat, and a young Pharrell with a band... Yes band behind him that generated a class or genre if you will, reaping pure rhythmic pleasure to your eardrums. It was like every beat, note, bridge, and hook, took a hold of your musical format, and set it on fire.
I remember looking for any album I could. Imports, full albums, singles, anything I could find on vinyl that I could throw into my already diverse yet wobbly set at the Art Bar on Sunday nights.
At the time, DJing and working as an EMT was my life. A few friends of mine would hear a new track, better yet an album or find a show they were going to perform. It was like an orgasmic explosion inside my head, already still “bouncing around, bouncing around, bouncing” from the last drop.
My 30lb iPod maxed with N.E.R.D...then...nothing. From a ridiculous show at the White River Amphitheater, to a stellar show downtown at The Moore Theater with the Black Eyed Peas. Each day seemed to bring more N.E.R.D. Out of no where, like waiting in line for your favorite ride, oh my to be turned away last minute do to a mechanical failure...everything just stopped
For almost a year, nothing. Then, there it was. Four tickets to see N.E.R.D open...yes I said open, as in the first act for Kanye in Seattle. Of course in my mind I was excited to see Kayne, truly though, I was there to hear what I loved in N.E.R.D. The bass, organ, sly beats, and Pharrell, yes Skate Board P finally drop that Hip Hop funk on the thousands who had become follow and recognize Star Trek. I was shocked at the amount of Trekkers that were there. You can only imagine my dismay to see the start of the N.E.R.D set pushed all the way to the front of the stage, like a local group just picked up for a fill in. Now my mood worsened as Pharrell began, 15 minutes in, he had no voice to continue. Thus no more N.E.R.D.
Feeling like my favorite pair of Nike’s had been scuffed, torn, spit on and drenched in mud, it seemed N.E.R.D never step foot back on stage.
I never understood what happened until like so many other amazing groups, rumors of a record label “mishap” landed them on the dark shelf and only now available on the import LP sleeve of old imports.
It truly felt like forever until Pharrell the producer began to reemerged as just Pharrell. No N.E.R.D, no bending of triple style rhythmic manipulation into N.E.R.D.
As the solo Pharrell still did his thing and hit every billboard, soundtrack, guest track work, and now TV star judge for the ever popular “The Voice.” No where waiting to bust out with Ready or Die...N.E.R.D, the name and the group had never existed.
Years floated by, and nothing. Pharrell was all over the place unleashing his poetic genius on soundtracks and hooks...but nothing else.
On one of my many sleepless nights I am looking for new or artists who are “local” and just haven’t made that two foot stance on stage, a very distinct sound came from my headphones before the sun came up. That synthesized piano and just of key beat kicks. Immediately I look at the art work and amongst God’s worst picture of a cracked up, fake nickle plate grill read. Single “Lemonade.” I scanned the art and in fact there were the letters I had given up on as an inspiration to true artistry...N.E.R.D.
As fast as I could I searched every music service and site for their come back EP, LP, Single, shit even a game show intro...nothing
Then in an off shoot article from some D&D insight board, rumors and posters began to show up, pasted like a Tuesday night free show in light polls, subway decks, even bathroom stalls, the same grill appeared with a N.E.R.D.imprint as to say, yes we are back, yet no announcement, no advertising of any sorts the clue sat idle for a short time.
One minute, Jay-Z is plastered on every musical media outlet with millions spent on advertisement of his new what ever. The Album cover of what N (no one) E (ever) R (really). D (dies), inked on a tongue cover appears in the Apple new Music menu, with the first time I have ever been so happy to see a dollar amount next to it.
So it’s true, N.E.R.D, no one ever really dies after years of nothing drops. Immediately I am all over this album and breaking out my Star Trek, Bape Shoes ready for the best album and collaboration in years!
Have you listened to the New N.E.R.D Album?
Talk about it!
Kendrick Lamar has become the most important MC in America over the past few years, and the reasons are apparent on even a glancing listen to his impressive catalog—his verbal dexterity, his capacity for reflection, his ability to fuse black music’s past with its next generation. On Friday he released DAMN., his staggering fourth album, which brings together tightly wound beats, allusion-rich lyrics, political and personal reckonings—and, hey, even Bono!—to create a richly omnivorous album. It feels as vital when its protagonist is musing on unconditional love as it does when he’s railing on now-President Donald Trump.
Lamar’s steadily increasing success over the past few years has culminated in some of the spoils only enjoyed by those at the very top of the pops—Grammy Awards and nominations in the cross-genre “big five” categories, collaborations with superstars like Beyoncé and Taylor Swift, big-money headline stints at festivals like the annual desert bacchanalia Coachella, where he’ll headline the Sunday-night installment of this and next weekend’s festival. But DAMN. shows that if nothing else, fame has driven him even further inside his own head, making him almost obsessively reflective about his place in the world—as a pop star, as a black man, as an American in 2017.
DAMN. opens with the shimmering, ominous “BLOOD.,” a free-verse parable about a meeting with a blind woman that ends with a bang—a gunshot that cuts the narrator’s life short. That fades into a prismatic sample of Fox News commentators complaining about the lyrics to his breakout single “Alright,” which he performed while perched atop a graffiti-covered police cruiser during the 2015 BET Awards. “Oh please, ugh. I don’t like it,” Fox commentator Kimberly Guilfoyle says. That leads into the harsh beats and boastful verses of the invigorating “DNA.,” which flips clichés about black culture on its head while also slamming hip-hop’s most prominent critics—like Geraldo Rivera, who said, “This is why I say that hip-hop has done more damage to African Americans than racism in recent years.” Lamar and Atlanta hip-hop mastermind Mike WiLL Made-It use the sample to great effect, dropping Rivera’s voice into part of a verbal melee with Lamar and an ominous-sounding countdown.
Know whats next, it's seems the award show Kendrick lost to Macklamore, his game has tightened each album he release and each performance he set's the stage on fire. Whats next?
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The old rap star metrics of greatness? Future has no use for them. In his songs, he employs few true narratives, no real wordplay or punch lines. He raps mainly in free associative snippets, which, taken as pure text, can read as mundane.
But what Future excels at — what makes him an undeniable star — is his gift for emphasis, and his ability and willingness to rewrite his vocal approach. He doesn’t toy with character like Nicki Minaj, modern hip-hop’s peak changeling, does. Rather, he fiddles with structure on a phrase-by-phrase basis. He’s interested in mode over content, or rather, mode as a means of content.
More than anyone, he has used the frictions of modern hip-hop to his advantage — he is a rapper and a singer, a technologically aided aesthete and a raw emotional purger, a street-centric braggart and a hopeless romantic. He’s idiosyncratic and identifiable enough that he’s become the go-to man for bold collaborations — he’s softened the edges of Rocko’s menacing “U.O.E.N.O.” and Lil Wayne’s “Love Me” but also collaborated on heart-melting love songs with Rihanna, with his fiancée, Ciara, and even with Miley Cyrus.
In so doing he’s become the genre’s first fully post-Drake, post-“808s & Heartbreak” star. His voice is one of the threads that unifies the hip-hop mainstream, and his second major-label album “Honest” (A1/Feebandz/Epic) demonstrates — as did the excellent “Pluto” before it — how what might in an earlier era have been solely an accent piece can now be the centerpiece.
Lyricwise, Future tends to latch on hard to a word, an idea, a phrase, and work it over and again until it sticks. He does this on songs about drug dealing and on songs about relationship bliss — repetition for him is an effective tool. He complements that by choosing emphatic production, with roiling drums (notably by Mike Will Made-It and Nard & B), or smoothed-out floating-synth backdrops with hints of elegance (few producers love an ominous, stark piano more than Metro Boomin — three of his songs here feature them).
Those are the parts, the standard pieces of hardware that almost anyone could work with. Then Future really gets to work. He can switch vocal styles at the drop of a hat, and sometimes seems to be juggling multiple voices at once, as on “Special,” where he’s wistful, sleazy and tough in quick succession. On “I Be U,” there’s the quickest flicker of a Prince falsetto before Future eases into full-on Zapp computerized self-harmonizing. On “Never Satisfied,” he switches midsong from a digital croon to a melodic shout, and the chorus of “T-Shirt” sounds as if it’s rapped through a paper bag.
(And this is to say nothing of his experimentation with flow patterns, notably on two bonus tracks that serve as playgrounds for Future to deliver syllables in unexpected agglomerations.)
“Honest” features two of Future’s clearest forebears on back-to-back songs — Kanye West on “I Won,” a duet in which both men rapturously celebrate their better halves, and which has faint echoes of Drake’s maladjusted lonely cretin anthem “Marvins Room,” followed by a pro forma Drake on “Never Satisfied.” Both Pharrell and André 3000 serve up verses about renouncing material pleasures. Future is flexible enough to accommodate all of them.
Even if not everything on this album pulses with full intensity — the back half of it lags — Future is generally magnetic. In part, that’s because of the constancy of his voice, which is impassioned and reassuring. Even when he’s at his most indignant, like on “T-Shirt” and “My Momma,” his voice is unflustered.
The rise of Future coincides neatly with the almost complete removal of vocal aggression from mainstream hip-hop. The radio teems with tension-free voices, with almost no rasp or bite to them — the slurry mumbles of French Montana, the inward-looking semi-spoken-word of Kendrick Lamar, the catatonic boredom of Wiz Khalifa, the utter neutrality of Kid Ink. Lil Wayne is more given to croaks than barks, Jay Z is the sound of interest-accruing bank accounts and Kanye West sounds petulant but never harsh. And there’s Drake, of course — the genre’s reigning king, and its chief defanger.
There are a handful of exceptions — YG, or even 2 Chainz, though he’s more enthused than enraged — but mostly, Future is something of the Platonic ideal of the modern rising hip-hop star, providing his own melodies, and using software to sandpaper off any rough edges.
The sound of Atlanta, and by extension, the sound of hip-hop, has evolved from carnival barker to deadeyed corner boy to narcotized dreamer, leaving older models of success — like those of Lil Jon and Waka Flocka Flame — in the dust. Now Future has his own spiritual children — fellow Atlantans like Young Thug and Rich Homie Quan — who clearly see in Future what the new standard for greatness is.
By JON CARAMANICA The New York Times.
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