Wrapped up 2018 on NBC’s Access, talking about the year in music. Drake, Cardi B, Ariana Grande, and some country studs with Scott and Kit. Fun times.
As the game changes and traditional reviews become less of a commodity (who wants to read a play-by-play of a concert when it’s being plastered by fans over social media, city-by-city?), I’ve had to find ways to cover shows and qualify my access to all the cool shit I get to go to. It’s a blessing to get a free pair of tix to see huge acts rock.
A decade in the biz and great relationships means that no-strings-attached assists happen all the time. Still, why not mix a little work in with play and get a good story off? So instead of doing a basic review of the Drake and The Three Migos and Jay-Z and Beyonce’s On the Run II tours, I stepped to it from a fashion perspective. What brands assisted these guys in looking like the icons they are? I ended up talking to Migos’ stylist Zoe Costello and designer LaQuan Smith for Vibe Magazine and learning about what goes into draping Jay, Bey’, Drake and the Atlanta amigos for the road.
Here’s the Billboard review I did for Party’s new album. Excerpt below:
On his latest studio effort PARTYNEXTDOOR3 (P3), Party is picking up where he left off two years ago when he dropped his PARTYNEXTDOOR TWO (the follow-up to his self-titled 2013 mixtape). To say he’s matured would be an overstatement. PND’s remained the same topically, keeping his subject matter acutely focused on his relationships with the opposite sex. He’s three projects in, but a fan probably couldn’t tell you much about his family or political views from his catalog. Thankfully, he continues to do what he does well — lifestyle music with vibes fit for chic, chill nightspots where downtown studs and beauties collide, be it in his native Toronto or Los Angeles.
There’s a certain and unfortunate level of pretentiousness that infects critics. I’ve been guilty of it, too. We journalists (or critics or bloggers or whatever) are, hopefully, trained writers and analysts that—again, hopefully—have a huge interest in what ever we’re covering. So we invest a ridiculous amount of time in order to become an “expert” in that field. It might be politics, sports, art (paintings/TV/FIlm/Music/Whatever, etc…). I’ve learned as an entertainment and pop culture guy that critical analysis, yes, is important. But what I’m trying to focus on nowadays is feel.
The thing that maybe makes me an “expert” is the context I can put things in. For example, let’s briefly talk about Drake’s Views album. Now if I was writing a proper review, I would talk about his whole catalogue, dive into this new album, then compare and contrast where I could while talking about what his more inventive peers are doing. And based on all that I’d arrive at something along the lines of:
On Views’ “U With Me,” Drake says he “made a career off reminiscing.” It’s true. Typically the Toronto underdog turned Pop stud’s memory raps yield noteworthy results. Unfortunately, trips into his past on Views lead avid fans listeners to narratives they’ve often heard from him before. Especially as it relates to his romantic endeavors. This guy has got so. many. exes. With Drake, it seems like the names of his women change, but what they do to him don’t. [Gives examples of repetitive storylines that we’ve heard from him that appear again on Views].
But I’d also talk about how the album felt. Feel is important. The mood on “Redemption” made me feel like drowning in a swamp of my own wrongdoings. “Controlla” made me want to wind my hips like an extra in a dancehall video. “Weston Road Flows” made me wish the drive I was taking while playing the album could last a little longer, because I didn’t want it to end. So despite Views being about 20 minutes too long with content that isn’t fresh, it’s far from the creative failure I’ve seen many critics pan it as.
Now with all that said, walk with me.
I saw X-Men: Apocalypse recently. Clearly, coming out just weeks after Captain America: Civil War and the massive praise it got put it in the tough situation of critics comparing them to each other. But I enjoyed it. First, let’s start with meh-ness. The story was cool enough. In short, an ancient mystical being with an enormous ego, Apocalypse, returns from centuries ago with plans to destroy a 1980s-era Earth that he believes praises false gods and technology. If all goes his way, he’ll restore it to a world he rules. Of course, the X-Men must stop it.
The script and dialogue are well done. I do wish there were more fighting and battle sequences. There’s basically one big one at the end and it probably ranks fourth among 2016 superhero flicks so far. (Civil War, Deadpool, and Batman vs Superman, who it does beat in the comedy category. BvS was dry as hell.) And I’m really wondering why Bryan Singer was so hype about casting Jubilee and her yellow coat in the film and then proceeded to not showcase her powers once. No fireworks or sparkles. None. WHY?
Though I did enjoy Wolverine’s savage-ass cameo, Cyclops’ origin story and Quicksilver’s heroics at the halfway mark. So the movie was good, not perfect. But here’s how I’ll explain why I feel like Apocalypse was worth my $14 ticket and, really, how I grade all comic book flicks. The question is Did It Make Me Nerdilly Feel Pumped and Ready To Save People and/or Fuck Shit Up?
In 2013 actor Henry Cavill’s first foray as Superman, Man of Steel, came out. Critics mostly hated it. It scored at 56% on Rotten Tomatoes’ Tomatometer. But after I saw it, I remember feeling, well, bigger. At the time, I lived in Brooklyn and saw it at the UA Court Street Stadium in Carroll Gardens. Admittedly, Steel wasn’t the best. However, the feeling it gave me was real. That day I was wearing a plaid red Ralph Lauren button-down over a t-shirt. When I left the theater and hopped on my bike to head home to my BedStuy apartment, I unbuttoned it and sped back to the crib like I was running late for a meeting with my couch.
Why? Because Superman made me feel faster, stronger even—like when I would watch Ninja Turtles, Power Rangers, or Ronin Warriors as a child and wanted to play fight and do karate on my little sister at home. There I was—then a man in his mid-20s—peddling like a Tour de France cyclist with my shirt flapping in the wind like a cape. No villain to fight. No wrong to right. No Lois Lane in sight.
That’s how I felt, though! So yeah, a critic’s job is to critique. And as was the case with Man of Steel, there are some holes I can poke in Apocalypse. Things I would have liked to see. But any superhero movie that can bring out that kid used to duel with imaginary monsters and morph into a costumed crusaders is getting a good review from me. I don’t care how many plotholes it has. I’ve got to blast through that snooty critic armor and ask myself if I caught that hero vibe.
Watching the X-Men battle against Apocalypse brought that out of me. That feeling is priceless. $14 is cheaper than priceless. Actually, it’s a steal.
I wrote a feature story for the good folks at NPR on DJ Dahi, the guy who:
- Produced “Worst Behavior” for Drake
- Produced “Money Trees” for Kendrick
- Who is about to be The Guy and release a compilation album called The Good Seed featuring a load of his music buddies and propel himself to a place where he doesn’t always need to be described as “the guy who…” You’ll just know.
“My goal with this music is to not to have to be less of myself when I see people. I want to be able to walk outside and be able to defend everything I created for it.”
I went to his studio in the valley to catch his vibe, called up his sweet Christian mom and also rapped with production wizard/Def Jam top dog No ID for the story. Read it. Then play his music and zone out. Cool? Cool.
“Majid Jordan masters the art of being weary on the dance floor with their self-titled debut album.”
That’s the first line of it. What I appreciate most about them is their packaging of sad love songs.
“Why you wanna be my love?” Majid asks after wondering why a girl all of a sudden wants to be in a relationship with him. Usually these types of lyrics would sit on top of slow, sullen music. But the duo brings these feelings to the club and make it danceable. It’s odd, in the sense of Wow, am I crying/contemplating this fucked up situation I’m in with the person I’m dating while I’m partying? It’s an awesome ability math those lyrics with that music.
I wish Billboard’s rating system wasn’t out of 5. 10 would be better, so that ratings could be a bit more exact. I would have preferred to give it a 7.5 out of 10, rather than a 3.5/5 for whatever it’s worth. I know a C grade is still a C, whether it’s a + or -. But wouldn’t you want $75 instead of $70 if you had a choice? Just sayin’.
Anyway, check out the review and give the album a listen. It’s a solid start to what’s hopefully a long career for them.