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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Coloring Book: AOTY

The reason I chose Coloring Book a while back is because this album defined 2016 for me. I graduated college in May, started a new career, most of my best friends moved away. Life was changing. Coloring Book came out at the right time for me because I was looking for something to latch on to. Chance’s lyrical prowess was fresh. Something that Kanye once offered, but has since lost. Chance offered an opportunity for me to rediscover my faith after 4 long years of questioning the meaning of it.

Coloring Book was the Album of the Year for me in 2016. And I thank him for that.

Stay Woke

This review is long past due, but here she goes.

The newest album from Childish Gambino is a risky, blast to the past, fun album. Donald Glover takes a step in a completely different direction from any of his previous, releasing a funky, groove-tastic project. I didn’t know that I wanted a Childish Gambino funk album until I heard Awaken, My Love! I will be the first to admit this album isn’t perfect (lookin’ at you “California”…), but there are some absolute bangers on here that deserve recognition.

“Me and Your Mama” and “Redbone” are the crown jewels of this album, with Gambino at his rawest and most powerful. I love the feeling he puts into these songs and Falsetto singing on “Redbone” is next level.

“Zombies” is also a good song, if you are looking for highlights.

“California” is a shit show. Not even worth listening too.

Rating: 7.5/10

Favorite Song: Redbone

Favorite Lyric: “Stay woke.”

Otis: More than just Maybach Music

I apologize for my tardiness with this review, but here goes.

Otis Redding is someone I am familiar with, but on a very shallow level. Everyone knows “(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay”, through years of radio play on Oldies music stations. Kanye West and Jay-Z paid tribute to Otis Redding in their 2011 hit “Otis”, featuring samples from the song “Try a Little Tenderness”.

When this song came out, I gave Otis Redding a try and listened to this album and thought it was good, left it at that, and moved on.

But going back several years later and trying to get my untrained ears to dissect this album has been fun. Every time I attempt one of these album reviews, I find myself trying to approach it from an objective point of view, but honestly, that’s just not me. Music to me falls somewhere between a disaster and a banger, between terrible and a complete jam, or even in the realm of bad or a wailer. I am not an objective critic and I think I should stop trying to be one.

As discussed previously on other blogs, the title track is the best. I feel that there is not much more I can add. Song is legendary.

With that out of the way, Dock of the Bay is a banging, slapping, pocket a.f. work of art. Otis has so much power and soul in his voice, giving us the chance to feel the emotion he is conveying in his songs. “I’m Coming Home” is a fantastic example of this. Otis has been left by his woman, leaving him a “lonely little boy, nowhere to go”. Otis is pleading to his woman, wanting to come back to her, with the chorus a powerful cry to get his woman back, to return home. The raw emotion in this song makes it one of my favorites.

Then there is a song like “Don’t Mess with Cupid”. Otis has been scorned by a woman, her throwing his love away like it was a piece of trash. This song starts with a guitar lick that is very similar to “Party in the USA” by Miley Cyrus. I love the instrumentals behind Otis on this song, with the banging on the cymbal and the horns fitting the cutting edge of Otis’ voice perfectly. I think this song is an absolute jam, and wish it was sampled more in modern music.

The final song that stuck out to me was “Tramp”. The female voice on this song is Carla Thomas and she is a perfect 10/10 on this song. When she says “You know what Otis… you’re country…”, I can literally feel the sass and hate this woman has for this man. Otis is trying to prove his love and monetary worth to this woman, but all she still thinks he is a tramp. And she says it in such a way that I actually believe it. This is my favorite song from this album because it seems the realest. 10/10.

Overall, I enjoyed coming back to this album and thought it was a nice choice by Connor. It is cool how we are venturing out of the Hip Hop genre we typically live in and are venturing into newer (older) territory. This album is an album of love, losing it, hating it, accepting it, craving it. This album fits the general mood of life, and was a thoroughly enjoyable listen!

Rating: 8/10

Favorite Song: Tramp

Favorite Lyric: “You know what Otis… you’re country…straight from the Georgia woods…” – “Tramp”

Prefab Sprout: Good Album, B.A.A.D. Band Name

I want to preface this review with my extreme dislike of the band name Prefab Sprout. This band is doing itself no favors with their name and I believe it hurts their appeal, at least at first. When Austin came at us with Steve McQueen, I thought he was choosing some weird-ass indie album that he wrote a review on for MPR a few years ago. I respect the musical tastes of Mr. Gerth, but we do not always enjoy the same genres of music. The name Prefab Sprout reminds me of some angsty teens sitting in their parents’ basement, watching TV and brainstorming band names, the thick fog of marijuana smoke in the air. A mildly suggestive Green Giant commercial came on, and boom, Prefab Sprout was born (This is probably a stretch).

Long story short: The name sucks.

When it was announced, I groaned, wondering what Austin was getting us into.

But oh was I wrong.

This album is right up my alley in terms of musical styling, genre, decade, etc.
My father has always told me I was born in the wrong generation; that I had an “old soul”, built for life in the 80’s and prior. I have always been a fan of the synthetic pop and classic rock of the 70’s and 80’s, something this album taps into quite well. Phil Collins, Steve Winwood, and Paul Simon are among my favorites from this era, and Prefab Sprout has a very comparable sound.

I have listened to Steve McQueen close to 10 times this week and each time I find something new I enjoy about the album. My first listen instantly drew me to the first track, “Faron Young”. The reference to a country singer I recognized and the idea of being consistently disappointed by things in life vibed well. I also loved the picking of the guitar in the lyrics
“You offer infrared instead of sun, You offer bubble gum…”. This is a total “old school” country lick, most likely in reference to Faron Young. After the first track, I just kind of didn’t get why the rest of the songs didn’t sound like the first and was pretty disappointed.

My next couple times through the album were progressively more enjoyable as I went. I found myself enjoying the melancholy and overarching minor-vibe of the album. The tales of love and the sadness that comes with it really struck deep. I have only ever had one girlfriend in my life, but we have all had those crushes that slipped away or the women that just didn’t work out. “Bonny” portrays this super well and is easily one of my favorite tracks on the album. The sweet guitar lead in followed by some of the rawest vocals on the album by Paddy McAloon make this a wonderful track.

The $$$$ song on this album is definitely “When Love Breaks Down“. This song is the one that puts people in the seats, soaks the panties, and pays the bills. It starts off with a synthy piano riff that slowly brings us into the soft vocals. When the chorus hits, Paddy lets it loose, bringing us in emotionally to the words he sings.

“When love breaks down
The things you do
To stop the truth from hurting you
When love breaks down
The lies we tell
They only serve to fool ourselves
When love breaks down”

I can hear the pain in his voice, the feeling of love breaking down, and the lengths we go to “fool ourselves”. While not my favorite song on the album, this is most likely the best track on it.

The rest of Steve McQueen has some solid tracks as well, “Moving the River” and “Horsin’ Around” come to mind, but I enjoy the first half of this album much more. Cohesively, the album flows well all the way through, but if we go on a track by track basis, my favorite tracks are all in the beginning.

So wrapping up, Steve McQueen was a really great introduction to Prefab Sprout and the whole “sophisti-pop” genre. The band reminds me of a pre-1980’s English Hall & Oates with its soft rock/synthy elements and thought-provoking lyricism. I would recommend this to anybody who can get past the stupidity of this band’s name and is looking for some sad, retrospective love songs in the vein of the 80’s. This album offers sun, instead of infrared. Take that as you will.

Rating: 8/10

Favorite Song: “Faron Young”

Favorite Lyric: “All my silence and my strained respect, Missed chances and the same regrets, Kiss the thief and you save the rest, All my insights from retrospect” – “Bonny”

Reagan, Relevance, and Good Rap

I am trying to think of a way to sum up the most prominent feelings I have on Illmatic. The subject matter of the album take us inside the life of growing up in New York City in the early 90’s, something I never have or never will experience. So as a preface, personal relatability to this album is fairly low.

In a time where Reagan’s anti-black, pro-incarceration policies still ran rampant, Nas enlightens us with tales of dealing with discriminatory cops, his streets filled with crack, murderous cops, and troubled youth. “N.Y. State of Mind” tells of kids with guns, crack addicts, and how nothing is like New York city. “Life’s a Bitch” offers a theme that still resonates with today’s rappers: get paid while your here cause who knows long that’ll be. “Represent” is a trans-generational anthem documenting police brutality and standing up for one’s hood.

Growing up in one of the whitest suburbs in Minnesota, I cannot relate to the situation Nas grew up in. But there are similarities between his experiences then and the world we live in now. Police brutality against African Americans is still a large problem in this country. One could even argue we have taken a step backwards in recent years. The crack epidemic (Thanks Reagan…) is comparable to the heroine epidemic we are dealing with now. Nas’ Illmatic and its themes and lyrics are still relevant 22 years later, and continue to have a lasting impact on the hip hop community.

Every track has a memorable beat and good producing, culminating in a well-polished album. Lyrically, Nas has rhymes that this generation can compare to Kendrick Lamar, but their flow is very different. Nas’ flow is not flashy in the slightest, but is perfectly timed to mesh with the beat behind him.

Overall, I enjoyed this album. It gets a little tiring near the end, leaving listeners clamoring for something closer to the first 5 tracks. It has those classic 90’s beats that everyone enjoys. The lyrics are potent and raw, finding relevance even today. I would recommend this album to anyone looking for a good album with historical significance that has held up over time.

 

Rating: 7.5/10

Favorite Song: “Life’s a Bitch”

Favorite Lyric: “I woke up early on my born day; I’m 20, it’s a blessing, The essence of adolescence leaves my body, now I’m fresh” – “Life’s a Bitch”