Random Thoughts I Had While Playing The Weeknd’s ‘Starboy’ Album

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The Weeknd’s Starboy album cover | c/o Republic Records

 

In the music biz statistics confirm success, but not always quality. A lot of crappy tunes become hits. I can’t fully explain why yet. Hey, shit happens. So it’s refreshing when a good project does something noteworthy in the numbers department.

In the last few days The Weeknd’s Starboy album has racked up plays and purchases and the first wave of tallies resulted in the Toronto singer-songwriter breaking the global record for first-week streams on Spotify, with more than 223 million streams. It also broke their one-day record, with 40 million streams in 24 hours. To boot, Starboy opened at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 Albums chart. So he obviously killed it on the scoreboard.

There’s so much I enjoyed about several of Abel “The Weeknd” Tesfaye’s 18-song newbie. His sound, which I used to describe as Sade-like—if she had done hard drugs, dwelled in the underworld and adored classic horror flicks—has broadened to shimmering ’80s pop while also staying true to his core. Here are some random, though fitting, thoughts I’ve had while listening to Starboy.

“Starboy” – Somebody woke up feeling theirself!  It’s so fun hearing Weeknd’s gentle Ethiopian  voice stunt so hard and talk his shit. His main and side chicks are out of your league.  New Edition is who he’s playing while he’s whipping his Bentley Mulsanne. G’ shit. Been enjoying his promo performances. That American Music Awards showing is the best of the bunch. I wish Daft Punk produced for me people, like on the Disclosure work-for-hire or complilation tip.

Random Thoughts I Had While Playing Bruno Mars ’24K Magic’ Album

“Reminder” – This isn’t my favorite track overall on the album (might be my fifth), but it  hits the hardest lyrically. From jump he’s on the assault, swinging on radio DJs that are more apt to play “blue-eyed soul” before his songs. I’m always intrigued by successful people who are still woke enough to know that the game is not all the way fair. This isn’t some rookie act crying foul. The Weeknd spent all of 2015 becoming a legit, pop chart-topping artist. Still, on the follow-up to the album that likely gave him the confidence to call himself a Starboy, he’s giving corny, racist music business gatekeepers the side-eye, like, “I see you.” Love that.

The first verse on “Reminder” is about how he achieved massive success while staying true to himself. “I let my black hair grow and my weed smoke,” he says. If you had asked me years ago if the House of Balloons guy with the Basquiat hair would become a pop star, I would have said something like, “Hope so” and put my hands in prayer position, because only God could make Dark Side MJ a Hot 100 killer. And that he did. Weeknd just cut his locks a few months ago.

And he’s fully aware of how crazy it is that he was able to make a song featuring a cocaine -reference in the hook hit record, one that Nickelodeon nominated for Best Song at their 2016 Teen Choice awards. It’s hilarious. “Starboy” also boasts a drug lyric in the hook, where his girl sees coke on the table, then “clean[s] it with her face/ Man, I love my baby.” Clearly, he’s still the same guy from his House of Balloons mixtape days, not at all concerned about cleaning up his content for fame. He’s winning on his terms. I can appreciate that.

Also, what’s the more cringe-inducing (though somehow fun) line—Abel’s “Got a sweet Asian chick/ She go low, mayne”  (Get it? Lo Mein, like the Asian dish) or Drake’s “Shout out to Asian girls/ Let the lights dim some” (Get it? Dim Sum, like the Asian dish) from “Over My Dead Body”?

“Secrets” – Can’t separate the rhythm of this song from 112’s “Dance With Me.” Take a break and watch the guys dance in oversized Adidas tracksuits. The clip’s tucked inside their video for “Peaches and Cream.”

“True Colors” – The song in a nutshell: “Pull all the skeletons out of your closet, sit them right here on the couch with us. I promise not to trip.”

“Starboy Interlude” – The Weeknd and Lana Del Rey’s characters get hot next to the microwave and stove. Made me think of Kellz’s classic.

“Sidewalks” – This would have been a solid song without Kendrick’s raps. I love the western feel the guitar rift adds. But this feature might be one of the best guest appearances of 2016—definitely the top verse of Kendrick’s year as a wingman. On top of the bars being top notch, he’s actually following along with the Starboy theme. I can tell he put actually thought into this verse, which is not a surprise when it comes to Mr. Lamar. Was cool learning how this cut came together.

“Love to Lay” – I’m a sucker for warm synth keys. The Weeknd makes great ‘80s pop.

“A Lonely Night” – More ‘80s pop. This guy’s really good at hiding totally unpleasant conversations in danceable tracks. Imagine hearing this for this first time and bouncing along to the beat only to find out on a deeper listen that he’s telling a girl that she was just a one night stand “and if I led you on, then I apologize.” Oh, wow. Bummer. The mood of his instrumentals and the message they relay have an interesting relationship. In that regard, this is some “Billie Jean” Trojan Horse wizardry.

“All I Know” – Trap drums on thump. Futcha Hendrix being Futcha Hendrix is always welcome.

🔴

A photo posted by The Weeknd (@theweeknd) on

 

“Die For You” – Might be the first time on the album that he’s fully vulnerable and it’s epic. One of my favorite three songs on Starboy. What about someone would make you die for them? What would factor into that decision.

“I Feel It Coming” – Daft Punk open and close the Starboy story. The disco vibes are strong here. As are the Michal Jackson-esque vocals. His lyrics towards a girl who’s a bit fearful of what love brings are softer and just aggressive enough to let her know he’s the one. It’s a sexy, smooth dance closer. “Coming” is the finale of his short film MANIA, which is worth its 12 minutes. The first few of them remind me of Kanye West’s Runaway film. Somehow, Starboy starts with Weeknd being a supremely confident bad-ass kingpin and it ends with its star charmingly delivering his version of “Rock With You.”  What a trip.

Random Thoughts I Had While Playing Bruno Mars ’24K Magic’ Album

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Bruno Mars’ 24K Magic album cover

 

Bruno Mars’ latest, 24K Magic, is tight and right. As I always say, if an album is less than 10 tracks (his is nine), the artist is either extremely confident that each cut is a body builder strong or they’re lazy as hell. Because it’s been four years since his last offering (Unorthodox Jukebox, which had just one more track than 24K), it’s clear Bruno opted to chef up a hearty entree as opposed to umpteen appetizers. Amazing albums, to me at least, aren’t long. The only classic double disc record I can think of off the top of my head is Stevie Wonder’s Songs in the Key of Life.

Fortunately, Bruno went the short and sweet route and came through with 33 minutes worth of jammies, this time with an ‘80s and early ‘90s R&B vibe. Magic feels like vintage New Edition, Guy, The Deele, and Keith Sweat. There’s a heavy dosage of New Jack Swing and that bounce found in cuts like “P.Y.T.” from Michael Jackson’s Thriller. Below, I share some random, though fitting, thoughts I’ve had while listening to 24K Magic since it dropped halfway through November.

24K Magic – Shout out to Zapp & Roger. That talk box is glorious. Love Bruno’s gruff soul-rap voice.

Bruno Mars’ Pop Gold

Chunky – This SNL debut of “Chunky” was perfect. Chill choreography (love his backup homeboy dancers). Hoop earrings will forever be best paired with sass and a nice ass.

That’s What I Like – I have to try strawberry champagne to see if I like it or not and if I should have it with my lady. This bridge is sweet.

Versace on the Floor – Don’t think I’ve ever danced under a chandelier. Or sexed on a Versace rug. #Lifegoals

“Straight Up & Down” – Lyrically starts off like a Lonely Island song. “Girl I bet your momma named you Good Lookin’,” he sings.  “’Cause you sure look good to me.” Did Jeromey-rome, The International Lover, write these bars? Bruno makes nearly corny lines sound like cold game because he believes in them. Feeling the doo-wop vibes here.

“Calling All My Lovelies” – Another Lonely Island start. But damn, this is a good track. Slow bop ‘80s cool shit. “I got Alicia waitin’, Aisha waitin’/ All the ‘Eesha’s waitin’ on me,” Bruno explains to a woman that won’t pick up the phone when he rings. Trying to stunt on a girl that’s fronting on you is desperation at its finest. This would’ve been the soundtrack to my life from time to time when I was single. “Pick up the phone, pick up the phone,” he begs. “‘Cause all this loving needs a HOOOOOMMMME!” Also, that Halle Berry voicemail assist is highly respected flex move.

“Finesse” – The Finesse challenge warms my heart. I love seeing y’all dance. “Fellas grab your ladies if your lady fine,” Mars orders. “Tell her she the one, she the one for life.” Love songs are so much more fun when you actually have someone to dedicate them to.

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Bruno Mars | photo c/o Atlantic Records | shot by Kai Z Feng

 

“Too Good to Say Goodbye” – The only thing I don’t like about this song is its placement. Closing such joyous album out with a breakup ballad kind of leaves me with a queasy feeling. It’s like I spent the whole album dancing with the love of my life and now she’s leaving me while the Jackson 5’s “Never Can Say Goodbye” plays in the background.

(I must say, I feel like I’m being a bit of a hypocrite because I do like sad endings when it comes to film. They leave that bad taste in your mouth that seems to linger longer than the happy feeling you have when the story wraps and everyone is okay. It’s cool when art does that.)

Maybe that’s the feeling Bruno wanted? But I would have preferred an upbeat ending to this album. “Goodbye” could have been the first track and then Bruno could have spent the rest of the album winning the girl back. Or he could’ve put it after “Calling All My Lovelies” and made the narrative one where, after his ex won’t pick up the phone when he tries to make her jealous (all them ‘Eeshas would make a lesser woman answer), he really has to beg. Anyway, this is still a great song on an amazing album. All thriller, no filler.

The RZA and I Talk About His New Clothes And Dragons

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RZA, wearing a 36 Chambers souvenir jacket | shot by Sean Sullivan

 

When the Bobby Digital’s on the phone, you answer.

It’s been a good while since Wu Wear was hot. I’m pretty sure back in the late ’90’s I at least had a Wu hoodie to rep arguably the best rap collective ever. A few weeks ago, famed Wu-Tang Clan producer RZA and business partner Mustafa Shaikh launched 36 Chambers. It’s their new clothing label—this time a “contemporary menswear” as opposed to the “urban” tag from those old WW days.

Wu-Tang Clan’s RZA Has a New Clothing Line Based Off Legendary ’36 Chambers’ Album

What’s cool about the Chambers, which plays on the title of the Clan’s debut album Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers), is that it’s current and not simply some grown and sexy (oh, how I despise that phrase) variation of Wu Wear with loud, broad-shouldered blazers or something.

They’ve got a souvenir jacket that’s clearly on point with what’s popping in 2016-17 and other pieces that seem fit for the respected pages of fashion pubs and blogs. Honestly, it was a pleasant surprise. I wasn’t expecting their stuff to be as cool as it is, kind of like I’d be shocked if Phat Farm returned with new heat and not quilted velour sweaters.

I hopped on the phone with RZA and Mustafa to talk about the line and the chat ranged topically from the significance of dragons, which fly on the backs of the souvenir jackets to how Asian culture continues to inspire RZA’s art and way of life.

Give it a read.

A Little Bird Talk with Travis Scott

 

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Travis Scott at Travis Birds Pop-Up | Shot by Sara De Boer

 

The tour merch era is back and killing. Between people rocking vintage/“vintage” Ramones or Metallica tees and modern stars like Kanye West and Justin Bieber cranking out concert apparel, it’s clear the trend won’t be going anywhere soon. Joining the collection of artists making rock merch worth copping is Travis Scott.

All You Need to Know About Travis Scott’s Los Angeles Merch Pop-Up

I met up with him last Friday at his pop-up shop out here in L.A., where he sold his Travis Birds line that’ll pair nicely with his 2017 tour for his Birds in the Trap Sing McKnight album. Levis trucker jackers with eagles drawn on the back, dad hats, sweats and more. You can wear them to the show or, like most will, everywhere else to be fly.

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Travis Birds line | Shot by Brad Wete

 
We talked about his love for Toyotas, Jack the Eagle (who fans will meet on tour), and how he whipped up the designs for the TB. Give it a read at Billboard.

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Travis Birds tee | Shot by Brad Wete

 

 

An Adidas Convo with Pharrell Williams for Billboard

 

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Pharrell at ComplexCon | photo from his Instagram

 

The first thing Pharrell Williams bought with his McDonalds money during his teenage years was a pair of these Adidas Instincts. I know that because we sat down last Sunday at ComplexCon’s Adidas booth to talk about the release of his forthcoming Hu Holiday line with Adidas Originals next week (Nov. 17). How times have changed, right? One day he’s mopping the floors under the golden arches and the next (like two decades later, really) Pharrell’s one of the brightest stars and designers at the place he used to save for.

Pharrell Williams’ New Hu Adidas Line: Serving Your Mind and Body While Being ‘Cool as F–k’

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Pharrell x Adidas Originals’Hu NMDs

 

ComplexCon 2016 Concert Recaps, Nights 1 & 2

It was a fun, short chat where he explained why his Hu clothes and shoes have a galvanizing message attached to them. He’s learning to master the art of having a positive message without being corny. “It can also just look cool as fuck,” he told me of his clothes, which feature phrases like “Human Species” on them. Read the whole piece here. Looking forward to getting some Hu stuff myself.

 

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Track Jacket from Pharrell x Adidas Originals’ Hu Holiday, out Nov. 17

 

ComplexCon 2016 Recap

I had a blast at the first annual ComplexCon over the weekend. As I described in pieces I wrote covering it, CC’s an expo set in Long Beach, California that showcases and aligns music with fashion and pop culture. It was great to see some of my Complex co-workers, watch some great performances and walk through their showroom floor, where the likes of Nike, Adidas, and more majors brands hawked their hottest heat.

ComplexCon Night 1 Highlights: Kid Cudi Returns to Stage from Rehab, Skrillex Goes to Outer Space & More

I covered both nights for Billboard. Here are both of the recaps, with info about Kid Cudi’s big return from rehab, Snoop Dogg’s LBC homecoming (with Pharrell and O.T. Genesis in tow), Travis Scott flying high with an enormous bird and more.

ComplexCon Night 2: Snoop Dogg Lights Up His Hometown, Migos & 2 Chainz Bring Atlanta Hits

Lil Wayne’s ‘Nightline’ Interview Let You Down, But How Much of That Is His Fault?

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Lil Wayne | shot by Thaddaeus McAdams/FilmMagic with added editing by HTS

 

After Lil Wayne’s super controversial interview with Nightline on Wednesday came out, I was asked by Billboard if I had an opinion on Weezy vs Black Lives Matter and him essentially refusing to have an opinion or have a positive contribution to the issues of African Americans. I did.

Lil Wayne’s ‘Nightline’ Fail Shows Why Asking Celebrities For More Than What They Sell Leads To Disappointment

The article I wrote for them, in a way, is the younger brother of this piece I penned here on HTS about Michael Jordan speaking out against senseless police killings and donating a load of cash to the International Association of Chiefs of Police’s Institute for Community-Police Relations and the NAACP Legal Defense Fund months ago.

It’s Great That Michael Jordan Spoke Up, But He Did Not Owe You That

In short, there’s a great deal of expectation placed on celebrities to be more than who they are. To be a movie star and a social activist. Or a rapper and political hero. And though it’s fair to hope one might use their popularity to fight for a good outside of their own, it’s that faith and desire in celebs that leads to huge disappointment. Such is the case for Lil Wayne, who clearly wants no parts of being a “fucking politician,” as he said before ejecting himself from that Nightline interview.

For context, it’s best you watch both the Nightline interview and well as his sit-down with FS1’s sports show Undisputed. After you read my Billboard piece, I’d really be interested in your feedback. It’s clearly a touchy subject, but the kind that makes for great conversation if you’re up for it.