Etc.

The Melodic Tree’s Weekly Playlist

1. National – James Vincent McMorrow

2. Too Much – Tora

3. Contra – Talos

4. 5 a.m. – The Millennium

5. Back Around – Dessert

6. Crab Supernova – Percolator

7. Sorrow – Life Without Buildings

8. Forest Fires – Axel Flovent

9. Colerain – Way Yes

10. Hallucinate – Oliver Riot

11. Fear of the Water -SYML

12. The Wisp Sings – Winter Aid

13. Epicurists – Jack in Water

14. Porz Goret – Yann Tiersen

15. Migratory Birds – Western Skies Motel

16. Cheeks – Shoecraft

17. Them – Nils Frahm

18. Februray Tales – Pill-oh

19. I’m Here – Rosemary & Garlic

20. The Quiet at Night – Mary Lattimore

What is Vince Staples Saying?

Vince Staples just dropped a great album. It seems ignorant to think that Staples was not artistically inclined in this album and was not using metaphors throughout the project. Here are some parts of the album that beg further examination and my hypotheses on them. You would be best served to listen to the album while reading this as the sound of the songs are just as important as their lyrics.

 

First we must examine the use of boats in the visuals for the album.

 

Why would Vince so heavily include the imagery of a boat in distress? Well there are a couple hypotheses.

One is that Vince is commenting on the ridiculousness of this common dream in the rap community of yachting and boating. Yachting and boating is only a dream because it is a declaration of wealth and power. Staples could be saying that such a dream is futile as material goods and materialism as a whole, is fleeting and unfulfilling. In the video for Big Fish, Staples could be saying that once the material good fails (as it inevitably will), you will be thrust into a cold and harsh world (the sharks).

Another could simply be that Vince doesn’t like this dream. And while he understands the inaccessibility of boats to the inner cities. He simply is not a fan of fetishizing the ownership of boats. He thinks it is wack.

Who knows? The use of boats in music videos have always been prevalent, Staples’ spin on this is clever and new, regardless of what he is saying.

 

Something that is more prevalent in this album than in other Staples’ projects is the use of house beats. Flume is a producer on the album and Love Can Be sounds like a U.K. house track.  This serves as a metaphor of shucking the preconceived boxes that Staples has been put into. House beats are often seen as a white form of production (even with roots in Chicago and Detroit) and Staples’ use of such beats are a deviation from the traditional form of Hip-Hop. Staples has never been one to conform to those around him and this shows that. Staples is actively flipping off the community that tries to label him and put him where they think he should be. By switching up the entire narrative re: production, Staples continues to assert control of his creative process and through that, his art.

 

Fish. It is all over this album. But what does it mean? In one phrase it can be summed up, the futility of man and his endeavors.

Crabs in a Bucket: a critique of the inner city and society as a whole, Crabs in a Bucket references crabs pushing each other down in order to escape the bucket. This critique of our current capitalist culture can apply to humanity as a whole. Humanity, as a whole is always trying to grow and make itself better. But because we are all trying to do that, we will inevitably end up hurting our peers and cancelling out any good we do.

Yeah Right: similar to Crabs in a Bucket, Yeah Right critiques the things that motivate us. The material possessions that are in front of us, preventing us from true harmony and true success. (maybe Staples is a socialist)

BagBak: in this song Vince is pretty much saying that no matter what he does, things will always follow him. No matter what anyone does, things are predetermined.

Most of all, Staples is calling humanity a big fish in a small pond. It may seem like we are the big predator of the world but in the grandest scale of things we are simply little guppies.

 

Shamana + Soundcloud songs for your summer

I don’t know who Shamana is or any of the history behind this song. But if you pride yourself on finding really cool stuff that not many others have found outside of the Soundcloud-verse. Check him out and check out this song.

On a related note, here are some Soundcloud songs, not all new, that you should be bumping heading into summer:

https://soundcloud.com/mxmtoon/the-idea-of-you

 

 

Drake, it’s 2017 bud

Unless you were living under a rock for the last month, you know that Drake recently dropped his *******playlist******* More Life. The album is already topping the charts and will, no doubt, make Drizzy a lot of money. Yet, it is far from a good album and acts as another data point in the downward trend of Drake’s work and image.

Ever since the album Views, Drake’s work has lacked any sense of artistic integrity. Rather than take elements from songs and genres that he likes, something that many rappers do, Drake hijacks the latest trend in worldpop and then claims it as his own (Also what the hell is up with his Jamaican fetish???). The lack of storytelling or a common theme in recent projects have forced most people to write him off as a sellout, something that I fully believe he is.

The last time that Drake showed any resemblance of artistic vision was on What a Time to be Alive,  the mixtape with Future represented the end of a 2014-2015 campaign that saw Drake fully embody who he wanted to be. A hyper masculine figure fully capable of flexing not only rapping prowess but also of physical image. 2015 brought with it the Meek Mill beef, Back to Back, and If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late, between these two projects Drake established himself as raps power monger. During this period his bars were clever and angry, the perfect mix of what Drake wanted to embody. Having grown from the renown sadboi from Marvin’s Room, Drake was now where he wanted to be. And then 2016 came around.

In 2015 Kendrick Lamar cemented himself as the best rapper since the 90s. To Pimp A Butterfly was a magnum opus, the likes of which we may never see again for another decade or two. While Drake could not, in any way, shape, or form, compete with Compton’s prodigal son, 2015 was a strong enough year for Drake that he could lay claim to the top of rap. 2016 changed that in a big way, Kendrick released untitled unmastered and Drake released Views around the same time. untitled unmastered, an eight track compilation of rejects from previous albums, ethered Views in the eyes of the critics. Views was a steaming pile of trends with ugly cover art and bad lyrics (“Chaining Tatum”, are you kidding me!?). There was so much hype around the release of the album that this got most thinking that Kendrick’s worst were still better than Drake’s best. Drake went on tour for Views and each night was an over the top visual spectacle, it looked as if Drake might find a niche of his own. Then in October 2016, he ridiculed Kid Cudi’s mental health, this was the last straw, Drake was officially a jerk-sellout-muscle bound-tool of the industry.

More Life sees Drake acting as a curator of worldpop. Taking elements from nearly all continents and compiling them into a single body of work. This would be interesting, commendable even, if the list of features indicated that Drake was creating something rather than slapping his name on something that Popcaan cosigned. More Life and Views, to many, sound as if label executives were DJing a 9th grade dance. There is little to no substance to either album and the songs sound filtered and photoshopped. Simply, the albums are bad.

That being said, the music sounds good. As with all of his work, Drake has figured out a way to make his music sound appealing and is able to make it popular in the mainstream. “Passionfruit” will probably be the most ubiquitous song of 2017, the smooth beat and wholesome message makes it perfect for elevator listening. But that isn’t where rap is going, and Drake should know that. Rap is going in a more raw and intellectual direction. While there are out liars (Kodak Black, I’m looking at you), as a whole, rap music is not what it was ten years ago. Ten years ago rap was the very definition of unenlightened, Soulja Boy had the biggest song of the year. It was still pre-808s and Heartbreaks, the album that would pivot rap into an introspective and brooding genre. After 808s, rap became more intellectual and emotion driven. It became more personal and real. It seems like Drake hasn’t gotten the memo.

Toeing the Line

A few weeks ago, Young Thug dropped what has to be one of the strangest mainstream hip hop music videos of the year. Watch it before reading this.

Young Thug has always been somewhat of an anomaly, criticizing the very culture upon which he panders to and thrives. With the “Jeffery” album cover, Thugger seemed to be commenting on society’s biases and stigmas regarding gender and presentation. However, Thugger also openly refers to women as “bitches” when there seems to be no need to. His latest music video is no different. Simultaneously critiquing rockstar prima donnas while also becoming one, he continues to walk the fine line between being cutting edge, and being a hypocrite.

Firstly, let us assume that Young Thug is in on the joke. The video so blatantly paints him in a bad light that he would have to be in on it or else it is one of the worst publicity mess ups ever. The video is posted to his Youtube account, something that the label has control over, so it seems logical that he signed off on the posting of the video. Also, Thugger’s Instagram account plugged the music video. So let’s assume that he signed off on and knew about the release.

With that out of the way, let us theorize what possible commentary the video could be.

-the rockstar mentality of superstars may actually benefit content and culture

-there is something poetic about the relationship between the entertainers and the artists (in this case between Thugger and Ryan Staake, the video’s director)

-Staake could be trying to say that the cloud that the entertainers/artists sit on is much more fragile than they believe

-or maybe it is just the result of a pissed off director and a no show rapper

Now, Young Thug actually didn’t show up for the shoot. Staake claimed that all the stuff that is said in the video is true and that the video that was released is the result of him making the best of a bad situation. So we will have to look at the video as a joint venture between Staake and Thugger. I still refuse to believe that Thugger did not sign off on the release of the video. It is simply too blogworthy for the artist not to sign off on. The label, theoretically acting upon the artist’s behalf, eventually had to sign off on it as they released it. With the premise that all parties included had some knowledge of the contents of the video, let us examine the things that could be being said with it:

(Note: a lot of these theories rely on Ryan Staake not being truthful to the media)


Theory 1: Young Thug (w/ Ryan Staake) is somehow commenting on the relationship that artists and their mentalities have with content and culture in 2017.

If we think about the video from an objective and logical sense, the video could very much serve this theory. Staake made the video without Thugger. Yet it was Thugger’s music and original vision that got the entire video off the ground. Also, the publicity that the video got can somewhat be attributed to the fact that it was a Young Thug music video, Complex isn’t going to put a ___ music video on their front page. The video is not what it is without Young Thug, and yet it is exactly what it is because it doesn’t have him. It is a commentary on how culture both needs its creators and yet at the same time doesn’t need them at all. Culture can move on without creators, and vice versa. Yet both work exceptionally well when there is the strained relationship between the two of them. Similar to what Kanye, another polarizing artist, tried to articulate with TLOP, the relationship that artists have with the content that is created is ever-changing.

Staake was the pawn. This is my favorite theory because it banks on this concept. Staake was played by Thugger into creating this. Thugger knew that Staake would do something with the footage, while I have a hard time believing that he knew that Staake would create the meta-masterpiece that this is, I think that Thugger trusted Staake wouldn’t just give up. And if Staake was played, what an outcome. Staake unknowingly commented on himself and his relationship in the creative spectrum. Staake is the talent behind the video, as all directors are. Yes, the artist provides the song and maybe some ideas on the video, but it is the director who works out all of the details that make the video what it is. This idea doesn’t have to apply solely to music videos either. Actor/director, musician/producer/label, artist/curator, writer/publisher, the list goes on and on, the message is applicable to almost any realm of creativity.

Staake is the captain, while Thugger is the vessel. They both need each other to effectively perform their job, and yet at the same time, both can exist without the other.


Theory 2: Entertainers v. Artists, a Saga

Thugger is the entertainer; Staake, the artist. They are locked in a battle of reality and glamour. It is representing a struggle between the top of the industry and the true artists who grind away beneath them In the push-pull that is represented, no one really wins. Thugger has bad publicity, Staake has content that he maybe didn’t want to make. It is a proposal for a more harmonious working relationship for the two. For the two to churn out their best content, they need each other. It is a symbiotic relationship that is often strained by egos and budget.


Theory 3: Ryan Staake Has Been Wronged and He’s Pissed Off, a Novella

Staake was screwed over, plain and simple. He showed up to do his job, and the other person, whom he relied on, didn’t. This created a massive headache for him and his team and resulted in them putting out content that they otherwise would not have. So in retaliation, Staake decided to make a video. A video that not-so-subtly showed how he really felt.  Staake wanted to stick it to Thugger. Staake wanted Thugger to know that the pedestal that Thugger thinks he sits on is fragile and can be undermined easily. By making the video, Staake is exerting authority over Thugger and the art that is jointly created. Staake is stripping Thugger of his power. Staake is showing that Thugger is no more than the people who work under him. That all artists are only where they are because of the labor and the workers that help their vision to come together. By releasing it and acknowledging the interest of the viewer at the very end, Staake is saying that without the entertainer, artists can still thrive. That without the main talent, the artist still creates. Staake is making the case that the entertainer is expendable. That content and culture will move on without the entertainer.

Theory 4: there is no theory

I don’t believe this is true at all. I think that while it may be sold as having no underlying meaning or motives, everything that has Young Thug’s name on it is artistically driven. One’s album cover is not him in a dress unless one wants to make a statement. On his last album, every song was titled after Thugger’s role models, that is something you don’t see everyday out of a rap artist. This theory holds no water. There is no way that there isn’t some ulterior motive. It would be wildly off brand for it to be so.


Thugger walks a fine line because critiquing a system that he is so deeply enshrined in is a difficult thing to do. Thugger, at this point, is a mainstream Atlanta hip hop artist. Pop culture is now something that he is a part of. He needs to be careful to not become what he critiques. His lyrics aren’t that far removed from the range of ignorant party music and his actions outside of the booth would lend themselves to an ego that needs to be checked. From throwing money at airport workers to this music video, Thugger’s actions resemble that of a teenager who just figured out how to open his checking account. This would not be a problem, he is living a rock star’s lifestyle, if it did not seem like he was constantly critiquing and challenging that very lifestyle with his art and music.

His music has always seemed counterculture while being very mainstream. If Nirvana played Coachella. That was always his appeal too. He was the anti-rapper, in a world of J. Cole and Kendrick Lamar, there was Young Thug to lighten and change up the mood. His actions are starting to reflect what his music foreshadowed. Someone who is trying to affect culture while being deeply ingrained in it.

It should be interesting over the next few years to see whether this music video was a one off or whether Thug will spiral into the usual pattern of rappers who make money then don’t know how to carry themselves. Regardless, the music video for “Wyclef Jean” remains as the early frontrunner for video of the year. Let’s hope Staake doesn’t lose too much sleep.