Roundtable: Big GRRRL Small World

Easy J: One night I was listening to The Local Current MPR station in Nicole’s basement in Moorhead (not euphemism) and an aggressive hip-hop song with unique sound caught my attention. The song was “GRRRL Anthem” by GRRRL PRTY. The track has a swagger I had not heard from a female hip-hop act since Missy Elliott, and to be honest this felt a lot more genuine to me. I later learned that Lizzo was the front (wo)man of the group. Since then I have really appreciated her solo work which culminated in me purchasing Big GRRRL Small world without having really listened to it, something I NEVER do. (I also won a pair of tickets to Bluesfest from Mother’s that day.) The stoner who was working seemed excited when I set it on the counter. He told me that their vinyl dealer in Minneapolis sold them a ton of copies of BGSW telling them it would sell really well. I had purchased the first one a week after they got them in. More on that Later.

Image result for Lizzo Big Grrrl small world vinyl

I love the album. It has quickly become one of my go to records to put on in almost any situation. It’s best quality is how easy it is to listen to. It sounds great in the background when I have people over playing games, but BGSW is also a rewarding headphone listen. Lizzo’s vocal work is varied and generally high quality, she can sing soulful hooks or burn you down with her quick clear lyrics. Speaking of Lyrics, I don’t think the text is outstanding but each track comes across as honest to me.

The beats are good on some tracks great on others. To me “En Love and “My Skin” are the best tracks. My favorite moment on the album is in the hook of “En Love.” The unsustainable build after a bunch of airy beautiful singing straight into a simple, unique, and particularly filthy section is so rewarding in a house music sort of way. It doesn’t feel cheap like a base drop in hip-hop can. I feel like I earned it. She varies the way that moment it used making it feel earned each time it comes around. “My skin” feels like the mission statement of the album. As a skinny (if a bit flabby) white male it could be hard to appreciate message, and I can’t help but feel like I’m not the target audience. It is such an empowering song. Lizzo just wants us to love ourselves.

She doesn’t curse. I didn’t even notice until she told me so. This is a wholesome album. I didn’t think it was, but exluding a masterbation reference, it is really clean. That is admirable. I don’t know if I would have that kind of self control if I was a rapper. I would just want to talk about titties on my lap and that sort of thing. Is it weird that I want kids to listen to this? Like, they should play this in middle school lunchrooms or something.

So in the record store I was surprised that I had bought the first copy. I knew Lizzo was kind of a big deal in the Twin Cites music scene so I thought a lot of people in Moorhead/Fargo would have wanted her new album. When BGSM was released Lizzo appeared on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert and performed “Ain’t I.” I though this would be her big break. It wasn’t. While the album achieved relative success it did not make Lizzo a household name. None of my coworkers are familiar with Lizzo or her work. These are people who listen to some pretty hip shit. They ain’t top 40 slaves, these folks are woke. What does this album need to be great? Is it the music’s fault? Is it Lizzo’s fault? Is it our fault? I don’t know.

Anti-Label: I like the middle school reference J. Lizzo is someone I feel like people should latch onto. In a society that is clamoring for more strong female figures than ever before, Lizzo seems like an ideal fit. Sexy voice, solid lyrical prowess, good repertoire, etc. Plus for me, she has the “Prince” effect. Anyone from Minnesota to me is instantly special because they are “one of us”. I picked this up from Dan Cole, The Common Man, a few years ago and it is so true. We Minnesotans love our fellow kin.

Anyways, Lizzo bangs on this album. She has social awareness and relevance, good beats, and some absolute bangers. In the kindest way possible, I wonder if she gets passed over for vain reasons? Cause she is one of the most talented female rappers in the scene today.

One final comment on the profanity note you made, that is crazy. I never even noticed. I don’t even react to profanity in Hip Hop anymore and I guess I just assumed there was. If I was a rapper, I’d be dropping more profanity than a drunken Chipz n’ Queso song.

Connor: I really love this album, and I’ve listened to it over a dozen times since it came out. It really hits me in all the right spots. But more than anything, I love how good the album is. Not in the “wow, this is a well-made album” way, though it is. I mean good in the dungeons and dragons cosmic alignment sort of way.

I’ve told Alex before that if I was asked by a student, especially a girl, what music I would recommend to them, it would be Big GRRRL Small World. Lizzo isn’t singing about partying and drugs; no hedonism really at all. She isn’t a raging narcissist, and she isn’t singing about how she’s desperate for sex (though she’s open about sexuality). Instead, she’s singing about what race means to her, she’s rapping about loving her own large, brown body. She’s also way more erudite than most rappers I know of. “Ain’t I” not only pitches reparations, but is a direct reference to Sojourner Truth’s famous speech “Ain’t I a Woman”.

But I think, to go back to Jason’s question about why Lizzo hasn’t blown up yet, I recommend Lizzo for the same reason she probably hasn’t gotten big yet. A few months back I was listening to the song “Batches and Cookies” from the album before Big GRRRL… and I was trying to use a website to read the lyrics to help me understand an unclear line. On the first website I tried using, a usually high quality website, the lyrics were listed:

“Look at me, I listen to Lizzo. I think I’m better than everyone else. Hey, why don’t you go fuck yourself” (I paraphrased).

And I think that’s really indicative of what people think about Lizzo. I think there’s a real barrier to entry, between the lyrical content and the sound of some of her songs especially the slower and more reflective ones, that can be hard to overcome. Is that a problem with the listener, or with Lizzo?

In any case, I can groove hard to Big GRRRL Small World, in particular “Ride” which has a super funky bass line and a cool, “I just need to chill” message.

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Easy J’s HOT Album Takes: Coloring Book

Drink: Hacker-Pshorr Weisse – A really pleasant fragrant wheat from Munich

Disclaimer: Seeing pretty much all of this record performed live has had a serious impact on my interpretation of it.

Slow Jam of The Week:

Summer Friends

The opening is one of my favorite uses of vocal layering in Hip Hop in recent memory. I really like the use of it throughout the track, its tasteful and always around without being obnoxious (just like Donnie Trumpet.) You could argue that the beat to this song is too fast for it to be a slow jam. That would be a good point. I believe the content and style makes it fit within my definition of slow jam. I feel Chance’s nostalgia and longing for a world I never experienced. I have no idea what growing up around S. 79th would be like, yet I find myself missing it. He is pretty good. It feels like backstory episode of a TV show I really like. (AT)

 

Beat:

Finish Line/Drown

This sounds like the back beat to an early 2000’s country song about a sunny day. Seriously. I pretty much picked it for that reason alone. Like, how can you make something that sounds so generic and is totally Chance? I find this song to be sort of enigmatic. It has a complexion that doesn’t really fit with the rest of the album. I could see the exact same instrumentation being used for a Christian rock song or something. I guess this is the beat that I found most interesting.

I should note that this was a cop-out because all the beats on this track do something for me in one way or another.

 

Rhyme:

They told me I wouldn’t go/
Cause in high school all I cared about was hoes/
Well, maybe that shit was my interest/
Now I spend more than they make at my dentist

Mixtape (Lil’ Yachty)

Hook:

Same Drugs

This bitch has been stuck in my head all week. The line itself is awesome. “We don’t do the same drugs no more” is such a simple line but there is so much that can be unpacked. It really seems like a shame that they don’t do the same drugs, like they used to really enjoy one another, now the other is gone. The ballad style piano line paired with the ever expanding layered female voice every time the hook comes around helps to create the sense of longing I need for this song to work emotionally.

Honorable Mention: Mixtape

I Don’t Get It:

Juke Jam

Blame JB. His hook isn’t very good. It takes me out of the narrative of the song instead of enhancing it. That isn’t necessarily his fault but because it is the only hook I really don’t feel on the album I am blaming him. Who called the Canadian? I don’t get it.

 

Banger of the Week

No Problem

The intro builds straight into the hook really well. I dig that. The beat has a great mix of deep pounding bass while the line is still fluid. As a former sub-woofer enthusiast I can say, that is really difficult to come by these days. This is a party jam, any party with Lil’ Wayne is probably pretty rad. The features are really good and the beat always brings me right where I want to go. This is a banger.

 

The Brief:

This is a good record. Chance is really showcasing his versatility and he does so without loosing any of the connection he has become famous for. Speaking of fame, this album feels like Chance staking out his place in the Hip Hop hierarchy. He made it baby.

19/20

 

 

 

 

Why I Chose Awaken My Love

I know each of us has followed Childish with different levels of fandom. I really wanted to see how that changed the way each of you heard the record. At first I didn’t really get it, but this record came on hard for me particularly after I heard a review on ATC about how it was made. ( http://www.npr.org/2016/12/09/504969213/childish-gambinos-new-album-is-a-funky-left-turn )

Now get something done ya filthy dogs. Happy 2017 kids.

Easy J’s HOT Album Takes: Dock Of The Bay

This Week’s drink of choice: Rebel Yell Straight Bourbon Whisky. 7/10 Want to pay 4 extra dollars for a fancy bottle? This is your Bourbon!

 

Banger:

(Sittin’ On) The Dock of The Bay

This is one of those songs. It’s so great its greatness is undeniable. Instead of explaining why I chose it, I want to try to figure out why it is just soooo good. Instrumentally, no part is out of its mind, this is good. The rhythm section is just a simple rock-ish beat and a classic doom… doom doom dum dum dum (deal whit it) melody. A piano leads through the chords to paint the mood and the electric guitar is just some fantastic decoration, present but never in front the vocals. The same can be said for the horn section. The vocal performance blows my mind. I like it so much. The timbre of his voice is so unique so much emotion is conveyed through just an oooo or a little flair at the end of word. The timing of the lyrics in this song fall right behind the beat like early Snoop. It is so pleasing to my ear, like Otis and I have this inside joke about the timing of the song and he never lets me down. I think that means this song is… pocket.

 

Beat:

I’m Coming Home To See About You

The song opens with a clank-y old time-y piano. Why? I don’t know but I am interested. I think the reason I like the instrumental parts of this song so much is the contrast between the verses and the chorus. The verses are subdued with a lot of space for emotion and lyrics. Then that dope as snare fill leads into the double time chorus which is bursting with emotion and upfront. The beat paints a perfect picture of a desperate lover. The song writes itself after that.

 

Feels:

The Glory Of Love

I just want to say here that most of the tracks on this record could go here. I just liked this one best. Otis Redding is a fucking legend for a reason. He makes me feel things with that god damned smokey voice UH. Anyway, this is a love song, I don’t really know what is going on but it makes me feel complex emotions. I am happy, sad, scorned but most of all nostalgic for nothing in particular. What a strange thing to feel. A familiar longing for an idea I can’t comprehend. This track and “Tuesday’s Gone”  by Lynyrd Skynyrd make me feel this specific feeling. This attacks my personal feels. Also it isn’t over the first time and who would want it to end that early?

 

I Don’t Get It:

Tramp

This song makes me feel nothing. To be fair we are getting into b-side filler territory on the record, so for what it is it’s not bad. I just wish there was more singing. It’s Otis man. I came here to hear him sing. Also that lady sounds like a total bitch. Just Sayin. Cut him some slack. He is Otis Funcking Redding, damn woman.

 

Hook:

Don’t Mess With Cupid

The opening of this track sounds kind of like “Party in the USA.”

OK, I love the stomp clap “Cecelia” style drum part throughout. The chorus itself is simple with the same four word phrases repeating more or less. The horns make it for me. I dig the constant swelling lines putting us afloat in an electrified sea. It really compliments the high energy singing of Otis’s upper register.

 

Rhyme:

Cause I’ve had nothing to live for/
And look like nothin’s gonna come my way

-(Sittin’ On) The Dock Of The Bay

 

The Brief:

This is a delightful way to spend forty minutes. Its a good record. The b-side might be a little soft, but that has as much to do with when it was made as what it  is. The biggest flaw might be that title track. It is just too good. “(Sittin’ On) The Dock Of The Bay” overshadows the rest of the album. It became difficult to enjoy the rest because I couldn’t stop singing the chorus to the opening track. I’m still singing it now.

17/20

 

 

Easy J’s HOT Album Takes: Steve McQueen

Its 8 AM on a Friday. I am done with work for the week. I have taken my melatonin supplement. I have an ice cold Miller Lite. Must be time for some HOT takes.

 

Banger of the Week:

Appetite

This is one of those songs that makes you feel cool when you listen to it at work. I particularly enjoy the base groove. The buildup to the chorus is really what my brain wants to hear. It has everything I look for in a great 80’s jam, although my taste is not nearly as refined as Spencer’s I am sure. The lead vocals are a silky tenor, tons of synth nonsense and rhythmically reliable back beat that is just interesting enough to make me say “huh.” I can’t say if it was a jam in its own time, but I’d say its a jam now.

 

I Don’t Get It:

BlueBerry Pies

I don’t know if this is good or bad, but this was the most difficult take for me this week. I had similar feeling about a good chunk of the B-Side but I think this is the one I feel most (least?) strongly about. Maybe this is my fault. I just can’t find a reason to like this song. Instrumentally there isn’t a ton going on to keep my interest so that leaves vocals and lyrics. The vocal performance on this track isn’t remarkable and the lyrics feel predictably nonsensical by this point in the record. Feels like a filler track to me. I just don’t get it.

 

Rhyme:

I hear you’ve got a new girlfriend/
How’s the wife taking it?

-“Moving The River”

 

Beat of the Week:

Hallelujah

Open with a drum fill? Fuck yeah. I’m on board. The instrumentals throughout the record can sound a bit homogeneous at the surface level. From the start it is easy to hear this is a different type of song.To my ear the key element is the the rhythm guitar which, paired with the slightly jazzy rhythm section makes a really pleasant noise to have in the background of a song. I could see this beat being used in songs from a handful of different genres.

 

Hook Line and Sinker:

When Love Breaks Down

The lead in is damn near perfect. It’s short, sudden. the first time its almost unexpected. While the rest of the track is slow with a lot of space the chorus is a sound poem with airy ooooos and awwwws on backing vocals and a sudden emotion in lead vocals. The groove frees itself becoming much more active and the rhythm guitar can counter the groove and the pieces  are all in the right places.

 

Right In The Feels:

Goodbye Lucille

I am going to be upfront and say I had a difficult time connecting with this album in an emotional way. The lyrics being a bit figurative didn’t make things any easier for me. That being said this is a good break up song. It’s a good song straight up. The chorus is cleaver, there is enough lyrical detail to know exactly what is going on and the song conveys that feeling pretty well.

The Brief:

Earlier this week Connor wrote a great post about how he needed to really give this album attention to appreciate it. I had the exact opposite experience. The first couple times I listened to it I tried to really LISTEN like Connor did later in the week. It just didn’t work for me. I feel now like I was trying to make the album something it wasn’t. Like studying the habits of sharks by putting them on the slab of concrete behind my apartment where the pool used to be. Tuesday night at work I had it on while I was working on some stuff that required the majority of my attention and I found myself humming along to the melody in some of the catchier tracks. This album, to me, shines brightest in the background.

 

14/20

 

 

 

 

 

Easy J’s Weekly HOT album Takes: Illmatic

Image result for Illmatic

First, a brief note: because I am lazy/awful ima do this bitch Buzzfeed style because from what I understand 1-Little Content 2-List Style 3-? 4-$$$. This week each category will have a brief explanation so you know where I am coming from. Alright let’s hit it.

Banger of the Week:

(This is the one you want to blast through the stock speakers in your Taurus.)

N.Y. State of Mind-This JAM has it all. The beat makes my head move as soon as it starts even if I’m not really paying attention. It works on a sub-conscious level. The melodic part that sounds like low keys makes this whole beat for me, the other elements just frame the melody so there is never doubt as to where the beat is. This song doesn’t require attention, it draws it. “N.Y. State of Mind” is a perfect example of how the correct pairing of style, flow and a beat creates something that sounds complete. I can’t really think of anything that, if added, would make this a better song. Lyrically speaking it does a great job of giving us the setting and mood for the album we are about to explore.

Rhyme:

(This is just the line I liked best, usually these make me chuckle the first time I hear them. It doesn’t even need to rhyme I guess.)

You couldn’t catch me in the streets without a ton of reefer/
That’s like Malcolm X catching the Jungle Fever

-Halftime

Right in the Feels: 

(This is sort of the slow jam category. I feel like slow jams don’t get enough love but they are just as important as the bangers folks.)

One Love-The intro sets the stage for a pretty sad story. We’re hearing a letter from Nas to a younger member of the crew, perhaps a younger brother, giving him an update from home while he is locked up. There isn’t really any good news. The track then transforms into a general love jam from one man to another. In an album that feels dated and difficult for someone like me to connect with at times, this one still feels really relevant. FEEELS

Beat of the Week: 

(For me the quality of a hip-hop song completely depends on my perceived quality of the beat. Here I will break down the beat that MADE a song for me.)

Halftime-From the start I know this base groove is only going one place: the TIPPITY top baby. I mean that driving line relatively high up the bass guitar neck is just so dope. Any song that uses that as a foundation is gonna be rad. I love the hook in this song, I mean its nothin’ fancy but what more could you ask for? We get a lead in from the baseline moving up then outta nowhere HORNS! A sexy little brassy trumpet melody paired with the female backing voice singing “ay” on a descending line and it just works so well for me. Over that stuff the echoing hype man “right right right right” along with Nas reminding me what time it is just fits right in the melody. The party sounds underneath make this a perfect mid 90’s hook for me. This beat slaps.

Honorable Mention: One Time 4 Your Mind

I Don’t Get It:

(I’m not saying this is a bad song, I’m just saying I don’t get it.)

Represent-It’s just too hard. With a really spacious beat that has little movement and no melodic hook to bring it back I don’t think it fits with the rest of the record. The listening experience is jarring. On a different record (four years later) it could be a solid B-side. Here I just don’t get it.

Hook Line n’ Sinker: 

(My favorite hook from the week’s record.)

Life’s a Bitch- No matter how many times I listen to this hook it all comes back to 1 simple element: execution. It is perfect. If 100 people tried to perform that hook I don’t know if I would like any of the better. It completely captures the attitude of the whole song. Also this bitch was stuck in my head all week.

The Brief:

(A short album summary)

Illmatic falls into a fascinating transition period for east coast rap and hip-hop in general. This can be seen in the gradient of song styles that appear on the album. From “Memory Lane” to “Represent” songs on this record could be at home in albums anytime from ’91 to ’01. I dig it. The variation makes it an album that flies by and seems to offer something new every time it’s played.

16/20