Music Quickspins

QUICKSPINS: Rome Streetz & DJ Muggs – Death & The Magician

Rome Streetz’s collaborative effort with DJ Muggs is dark, violent and especially paranoid.

Rome Streetz raps like the main character of a Grand Theft Auto game. Though today’s New York isn’t quite like the Liberty City presented in GTA IV, the fiendish beats produced by Cypress Hill veteran DJ Muggs create a ghoulish aura that showcases just how vicious and cutthroat Rome can be on their first collaborative effort, Death & The Magician. The album sounds like what would happen if the next entry of the Rockstar Games inspired itself by watching Christopher Nolan’s The Prestige.

Death & The Magician’s first real track “Prayers Over Packages” starts with a short series of questions where Rome ponders his downfall as a potential revolutionary (“What get you killed fast than too much love, trust and truth? / What’s the difference between Malcolm, Martin and Huey Newt / Sometimes a n**** downfall is who he knew”). Rome’s paranoia is what drives him to keep on asking questions. On “The Devil’s Chord,” the NYC-based rapper likens COVID to the fentanyl crisis and racism embedded in the United States’ police and judicial divisions. COVID-19 is, of course, real, but Rome isn’t arguing against it. He sees it as another tool for the American government to leave Black people for dead.

Rome’s consistency is reliant on his authenticity. On “The Manuscript,” he raps about living his raps (“I really am what I spit in songs / N***** be actin’ like they really want smoke ‘til they hit the bong”), and not creating a personality for the sake of selling records. Frankly, it’s hard not to believe Rome when his songs sound the way they do. Muggs’ rugged production supplements Rome’s grittiness across Death & The Magician with his masterful sampling and the airy, ethereal darkness it exudes.

Despite Rome’s fiery performances, he stumbles by showing a jarring lack of empathy, uttering a homophobic slur on “High Explosive.” Similar to how Tyler, The Creator used to say the word liberally on albums like Wolf and Cherry Bomb, Rome’s use of the f-word shows a slight disconnect, even if the word wasn’t used to demean the gay community explicitly. 

Death & The Magician sounds exactly like what the title implies. It’s a dark and violent album but isn’t in your face with booming bass and trunk-rattling raps. It’s like looking up into a gossamer and getting enthralled by the paranoia and apprehensiveness of someone who’s seen it all in the streets of New York.


Rating: 8.5/10

Trial Track: “The Manuscript”


The hidden track: a lost art gone too soon

Now that we know everything about an album before it drops, hidden tracks are a thing of the past

It’s time to pour one out for one of the streaming era’s most cataclysmic casualties: the hidden track. This sneaky little song would usually appear off the coattails of an album’s “final” cut, usually letting it finish out and breathe for a few seconds in complete silence before a bonus track would start playing.

Most of the time, these tracks would start unbeknownst to the listener, who would just assume the album had ended and would either eject the CD or remove the vinyl record from the player. But if they’d kept listening, they might hear a bonus cut that didn’t make the official tracklist. Major artists like The Beatles, Aerosmith and even Frank Ocean opted to use a hidden track in at least one project.

On the streaming version of Frank Ocean’s channel ORANGE, the album ends with the aptly titled “End” which serves as a lo-fi closer to an otherwise pretty straightforward album. On the CD version (an archaic device), the track sits in a couple minutes of silence. Then a beat started playing which turned into a full song, “Golden Girl.”

The song has since not appeared on major streaming platforms and exists as a loosie track on YouTube where a casual listener might not know it existed as a bonus on the album. “Golden Girl” may have been the last time we saw a hidden track too.

As the state of music continues to move away from physical media and to digital streaming platforms, having a hidden track is, well, sort of impossible. We can see every track and its respective length, so if a concluding track runs over seven minutes and the song stops three minutes in, it’s a safe bet to assume there’s more coming.

That element of surprise from the CD and vinyl era is gone. The art of listening to an album has become the same across the board. We know exactly what we’re getting, how much we’re getting, and if there is some sort of bombshell revelation about a new album, you can bet it’ll be spoiled within an hour of the album dropping. Thanks, Twitter.

Even old albums that had a hidden track can’t contain that secret. Ginuwine’s classic album Ginuwine… The Bachelor technically ended with “G Thang,” but on streaming services there is not one, not two, not even three, but five (!!) different “Silent Interlude” tracks that lead into the (not-so-well) hidden track, “550 What?”

Though it’s probably for the best that these tracks have come to the surface and become widely accessible, the loss of hidden tracks in the streaming service hurts. We know everything about an album when it drops. Track lengths? We know them all. Features? Unless you’re Travis Scott releasing Astroworld, we know those too. Production credits? Maybe a bit harder to come by, but they’re there in the credits (which reminds me, pour out another one for the booklets inside CDs).

The streaming era killed the brilliant physical media marketing and tricks an artist could pull to entice the listeners into wanting more. Sure, this probably seems like an “old man yells at cloud” take, but one can only hope that artists find new ways to surprise us when we already know way too much.


Nomadland: A solemn tale of poverty in the United States

Chloé Zhao’s third feature film spans a year-long quest by a woman who has lost everything

The United States is broken. With affordable housing being unwaveringly difficult to find in cities like San Francisco and New York, some people have settled on leading nomadic lifestyles. Nomadland, the third feature film from Chinese-born director Chloé Zhao, is a heart wrenching tale of searching for home after one loses everything.

After the town of Empire, Nevada is shut down due to the closure of the U.S. Gypsum plant, Fern, played by the ever-astounding Frances McDormand, sets off to live in her van, effectively abandoning the notion of living a stable life in a quiet town.

Nomadland follows Fern for a full calendar year as she searches for various temporary jobs and shelters that will let her park her van for the night. The movie is plot-lite. There are no action sequences or moments that leave you wanting more. Zhao’s main goal here is to let the viewer examine and analyze the state of poverty in a country as rich and grand as the United States.

The American Dream will have you believe that it is easy to find a spouse and build a nuclear family as industrial jobs sprout left and right. In seconds, however, all of that can dissipate. Fern lost her job and her husband in such a short time that her life came crumbling down and forced her to recreate how she lives.

Fern’s year-long adventure isn’t as solemn as the plot describes, though it does come close. Her travels are tied together by several other nomads living in near-identical situations to Fern’s. Some of these people are played by tried-and-true actors like David Strathairn, who plays David, whose name is the sole characteristic shared between the actor and character. Other actors, however, are simply playing fictionalized versions of themselves like Swankie and Linda May.

It wouldn’t even be a stretch to call those playing themselves non-actors. They are simply people who lived their truths in a deeply personal fictional tale. Fern’s quest for a home turns less into a search for a place, but a search for people who make her feel like she’s at home.

Fern’s relationship with David is never romantic on-screen, but the quiet passion between the two lead us to believe that in another stable life, they could have found peace together. 

Nomadland never wallows in its sadness and morose themes, but instead acts as a 100-minute recapitulation of a woman whose life has been shattered into a million pieces, but can’t be put together like it used to be.

Chloé Zhao’s latest opus shares very similar styles to her 2017 western The Rider. Both tell the tales of midwestern/western people whose lives change in a sudden dramatic way. Each character has, in their brief moments, layers of depth that make them feel less like side pieces in Fern’s tale and more like real people who are just trying to make it.

Music Quickspins

QUICKSPINS: Pooh Shiesty – Shiesty Season

Pooh Shiesty’s debut album packs a consistent punch but lacks a star-making track

Pooh Shiesty has a lot to live up to. The Memphis-bred artist’s debut, Shiesty Season, under trap legend Gucci Mane’s label 1017 and shows he’s ready to trade bars with some of the genre’s most reliable veterans.

From the beginning, Shiesty is firing on all cylinders. The explosive “Shiesty Season Intro” is the table-setter for the healthy 17 total tracks on the album. It’s punchy and without a hook, leaving Shiesty to showcase his rapping ability all in under two minutes. While not always rapping on the beat, the 21-year-old’s ability to tell his stories and scoff at death threats (“Tryna pay to get me killed, why you won’t come do it? (Come do) / Get sent out, watch how I send you back to ’em shows he can’t be fazed”).

Shiesty Season’s impalpable energy makes its 50-minute run time that much more palatable, but some tracks towards the middle of the album tend to bleed onto each other. “Choppa Way” and “Gone MIA” aren’t unlistenable, but they don’t necessarily scream out “essential tracks” on the project.

The collaborations are what make Shiesty Season as engaging as it is. “Big 13 Gang” featuring Choppa Wop and Lil Hank is an ardent semi-posse cut that sees all three rappers going back and forth backed by a simple instrumental whose purpose is to focus their commanding voices.

21 Savage, Gucci Mane, and Lil Durk are the biggest names on Shiesty Season and on each track, Pooh Shiesty proves he’s more than just a major-label signee with buying power. On “Box of Churches,” the Memphis artist raps over a flute-led beat about his success and gives out his own advice to those who might heed it. Yet, he never feels overpowered by his guests.

Shiesty Season lacks a winning track that can win over a crowd of people and the extended runtime does overstay its welcome, but Pooh Shiesty has a winning formula. His ability to craft consistent, albeit unspectacular bangers will continue to flesh out as he drops more under Gucci Mane’s 1017 label. After all, he does have one of the best trap hitmakers of all time to help him out. Pooh Shiesty will be alright.


Rating: 7/10

Trial Track: Box of Churches (feat. 21 Savage)


Music Quickspins

QUICKSPINS: Madlib – Sound Ancestors

Madlib’s latest project is a hazy sonic adventure that borrows from different times and cultures and morphs it into something that is unmistakably Madlib.

Madlib’s versatility knows no bounds. The legendary producer’s ability to craft an entire album’s worth of instrumentals for rappers is just as apparent on his own solo material. Kieran Hebden of Four Tet appears all over Madlib’s latest album Soul Ancestors, a project that sees Madlib experimenting with evocative and brooding sounds.

No two songs on Sound Ancestors sound alike, with Madlib and Hebden using many different instruments, particularly strings, to bring together a compilation of tracks that pay respects to various influences while also morphing them into something so peculiar, it unmistakably has Madlib’s fingerprints all over them. 

“Road Of The Lonely Ones” is where the album begins to find its stride. The eloquent guitar and bass leading the track complement the soulful background vocals that sound like exactly what the title implies. It’s hollow but striking in a way that the few lyrics in the track sound like a cry for help as the singer wallows in his misery.

The following track “Loose Goose” opens with a sci-fi electronic instrumental before introducing a classic Snoop Dogg sample where he only says “Fo shizzle, dizzle.” The track bounces back and forth from a fiery saxophone loop and distorted vocals from an unknown man. The mystique in the track adds to Madlib’s secrecy that has surrounded his career for years.

Sound Ancestors isn’t Madlib’s first foray into producing cryptic music, although his latest project is a glitched time capsule that borrows from the past and incorporates whatever he took in a dystopian-like album. It sounds fresh in the same way that it sounds old, with Madlib combining the two aspects to create new soundscapes altogether.

Madlib flies through time on tracks like “Two for 2 – For Dilla,” an homage to the late icon J Dilla. The beat is reminiscent of the Detroit producer’s works, but it’s unmistakably a Madlib beat. Coming off the heels of the death of longtime collaborator and underground legend MF DOOM, Sound Ancestors also sounds like it could’ve been a prototype for another collaborative project. Though none of the beats are asking to be rapped on, songs like “Latino Negro” and “Hopprock” could have easily added some vocals on them to add another element.

Yet Madlib is not interested in working with anyone else besides Hebden across the project’s 16 tracks. Madlib’s insistence on mixing the new with the old on Sound Ancestors led to him making a refreshing and engaging beat tape in an era where they don’t come all that often. It’s an album that doesn’t necessarily require an attentive ear, but the closer you listen, the more intricacies you’ll find.


Rating: 8/10

Trial Track: “Loose Goose”


Rethinking the importance of album reviews

Album reviews don’t exactly serve the same purpose anymore and that’s okay.

The art of reviewing an album is criminally underrated. For every half-decent score given out to musical projects by outlets like Pitchfork and The Needle Drop, there’s a fountain of thoughts behind the arbitrary number meant to show why it was chosen. A 6.8 might look ugly as a number, but the review itself could very well be flattering and critical where it has to be. Let’s not forget a 6.8 is only mere decimals away from a seven, which most of us would consider to be a good grade.

Before the internet existed, the only way to get someone’s thoughts on an upcoming album was to read a magazine or newspaper’s review since they had received an advance copy of the project. The reviewer’s words mattered more as it gave the reader a unique view with which to approach the music. The score aimed to put this smorgasbord of thoughts on a scale that we could all perceive in our heads.

As we moved towards an era where consuming new music is instantaneous, we don’t need to hear the reviewer’s thoughts before jumping into an album because there’s no cost of entry once you have a subscription to a streaming service. If the newest Guns N’ Roses album came out in the 1990s (I’m looking at you The Spaghetti Incident?), it cost between $15 to $40 to purchase the album’s CD or vinyl and listen to it. There was also a chance that the album might very well suck (it did). Who wants to spend money on an album they might never want to listen to again?

Today, that risk is gone. At midnight on a Friday, hundreds of new albums come out and all it costs to listen to these projects is time. Moreover, as reviewers tend to receive fewer advance copies of albums, the reviews only get published the Monday or Tuesday following its release as to make sure the piece is timely. Yet, as Pitchfork and The Needle Drop continue to give out scores we don’t agree with, the internet seems to completely disregard the actual opinion in favour of the arbitrary score.

When Pitchfork reviewed Taylor Swift’s folklore, they had given the album an eight out of ten, but the review itself was glowing. The lack of inclusion in its famous Best New Music section and what some fans deemed a low score led to the doxxing of the writer, Jillian Mapes. The review was thoughtful and even critical at times, but that’s what constitutes a review – the good and the bad.

Aside from Pitchfork, the only other prominent reviewer is Anthony Fantano, the man behind the immensely popular YouTube channel, The Needle Drop. Fantano’s reviews are fairly straightforward and sometimes absurd as he leans into his love for memes which makes his videos all the more engaging. But his reviews follow a formula that bleeds onto every genre of music he reviews. He mostly engages in a track by track breakdown and reviews the music solely based on what it is and how it sounds like, largely ignoring context leading up to its release.

Fantano is also known for his mostly harsh scores, giving artists like Drake and Future horrible reviews while giving industrial hip hop acts like Death Grips continuously glowing reviews. He’s allowed to score things how he wants, but the problem here is that he’s been deified by his viewers. Every score he gives effectively lives rent free in the minds of whoever watches his content which leads to his followers becoming mini-Fantanos. The 35-year-old YouTuber has long criticized his fans for doing this, though it keeps happening.

Album reviews and general thoughts on a project tend to change as we see someone in a higher position of power share their thoughts, often a week or so after the album has dropped. Many YouTube comments and Twitter replies urge Fantano to review an album so that they can know whether they should defend it or crucify it online.

Over the years, I’ve come to watch Fantano less. Not because he’s necessarily bad at what he does, but because I too found myself becoming influenced by his arbitrary scores and methodical approach to reviewing. I found myself becoming less enthused with albums I previously loved because he came in with harsh criticisms that I couldn’t defend. But that’s where music becomes an infinitely personal experience.

We can love albums for their imperfections. Lil Wayne’s Tha Carter III was imperfect to a point where it’s a hell of a ride every time I listen to it, flaws and all. Drake’s Views and More Life are deeply flawed albums but I still enjoy them regardless — people forget the skip button exists and you quite literally ignore the bad tracks much more easily than getting up and moving the needle of a record player onto the next track.

Music reviewing shouldn’t exist in a vacuum. It’s an opportunity as writers, thinkers or vloggers, to put out our thoughts on a body of work that will most likely be flawed. The scores we attribute them are not always a decisive reflection of our thoughts. Most scores will likely change after a few months of listening to an album because there’s always something new to think about.

Reviews are a deeply personal experience that will vary from person to person. The different opinions are what make reviews so intriguing to read. If everyone had the same thoughts on an album, we’d have the Kanye effect where you’d get roasted and berated for thinking My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy is anything less than perfect, which would be asinine. Reviews are a gateway into a person’s thoughts and should be viewed as such instead of just looking at the score and thinking every seven out of ten is the same thing.


Music Quickspins

QUICKSPIN: Megan Thee Stallion – Good News

Megan Thee Stallion continues to show that she’s a great rapper even if that means she hasn’t made a great album just yet.

From the first few seconds of “Shots Fired,” the very first track of Megan Thee Stallion’s Good News, it became abundantly clear that the Texas-born rapper isn’t taking kindly to being disrespected anymore. A few months ago, Megan was at the center of a massive controversy when she claimed that Torey Lanez shot her in the foot. Lanez then responded by saying she lied and he didn’t shoot her which led to her being constantly scrutinized on social media. The now-ridiculed Toronto rapper then took it upon himself to release a whole album dedicated to slandering Megan. So what did she do? She retaliated with one of this year’s most searing songs.

Megan’s rapping on the aforementioned track is cutthroat, vicious, and very much angry. And why shouldn’t she be? Since her breakout mixtape Fever, she’s proved over and over again that her rapping skills are among the best in the industry right now. Though she channels this energy through much of her debut album, at times she seems to be a better rapper than album artist. 

Good News is made up of hits, for better or for worse. On “Body,” Megan crafts an annoyingly catchy hook built for the TikTok machine. It’s simple and couples with a dance move sure to ruin people’s knees, but the repetitive “Body-ody-ody-ody” will only be attractive for so long before it becomes the world’s most overplayed song. Still, even with these issues, Megan’s verses are as sharp as they’ve been.

The 25-year old rapper shines brightest when she avoids attempting to make pop-music and when she doubles down on her hypersexual aggressive flows like on “Do It On The Tip” with City Girls. The track is expectedly raunchy but packs a fiery punch as the southern rappers all fit together as perfectly as one could imagine.

“Circles” features a beautiful sample of “Holding You Down (Goin’ in Circles)” from Jazmine Sullivan and sees Megan rapping some of her best verses on the album. It also features a better hook, something Megan struggles with.

Megan’s collaboration with SZA on the exquisite “Freaky Girls” is the apex of the album. SZA’s rare appearance is a sight to behold and she sings the best hook on the album with a fervour that only makes me want to hear her new project that much more.

For as much as Megan does right on this album, Good News is burdened with a few lazy attempts at making pop tracks that simply don’t work that well. “Don’t Rock Me To Sleep” is a boring autotuned affair that adds nothing to the Megan Thee Stallion story. It’s a retread on her sexual lyrics masked by a glittery pop instrumental. “Intercourse” sees Megan collaborating with Popcaan on what sounds like a leftover track from Drake’s Views sessions. Popcaan’s vocals are decent and fit the theme of hypersexuality, but Megan’s crossover into dancehall is unnatural.

The album effectively ends with “Outside” (the three tracks following it are previously-released singles that one could call bonus tracks) which is akin to Drake’s reflective outros on each of his projects. It’s reflective and insanely confident which only points to a brighter future for Megan. If she can start cutting the fat on her albums and removing her attempts at going pop, then perhaps she has a classic album in her.

Until then, we’ll have to deal with yet another good Megan Thee Stallion project with only a few blemishes. She continues to prove that she’s a great rapper who’s just shy of achieving greatness as an artist.


Rating 7.5/10

Trial Track: “Shots Fired”


Bryson Tiller and the art of living between albums

Putting pressure on artists to release new material will only lead to watered-down tunes built for streaming.

Every Thursday night, like clockwork, the world prepares itself for a new batch of new music. These drops can be surprises or the result of a meticulous marketing campaign designed to attract the most amount of listeners as possible. Since there’s so much new content every week, it can become easy to forget about an artist who’s been laying low for a long time.

Look at Bryson Tiller, one of R&B’s hottest up-and-comers in 2015.  He was able to coast off the monster single “Don’t” with all the hype he’d drawn to himself. With that, he had a lot to live up to when he released  T R A P S O U L, his debut album that same year. He followed it up with the middling True to Self in 2017 that came and went with little fanfare. After his sophomore effort though, Tiller disappeared. Despite some one-off singles in 2018 and 2019, his fans weren’t sure what to make of his lacklustre output.

In the meantime, a whole new wave of R&B artists rose to the occasion and dropped music that borrowed from Tiller’s sound. Since streaming makes it so easy to just listen to something new, it’s just as easy to forget the artist who helped guide a new generation of crooners.

Fans will always be a pestering bunch. They’ll love an artist when they release something new but will pester them on social media if they’ve been quiet for anything more than a few months. 

The pressure adds up. Not only is there weight on the artist’s shoulders to release something new and better than their last release but there’s a lot to lose from a monetary point of view.

If the album flops, then people will look elsewhere to scratch the itch they have for music that their favourite artist makes. So for Tiller, his comeback would not only have to be good, but it would have to be on or surpass T R A P S O U L’s level of quality to maintain the squirrel-like attention span fans have today.

Even Spotify CEO Daniel Ek adds to the already overwhelming pressure by stating that artists can no longer release an album every three to four years because it won’t generate enough revenue to sustain them.

His comments naturally faced a lot of backlash. Spotify’s payout to artists is notoriously low so his comments imply that an artist should have to release something new every few months in order to make a good living, which could hinder their creative process.

So what does an artist like Bryson Tiller do? He can’t coast off the success of T R A P S O U L forever and if he’s not in the right mental space to create more music, then he shouldn’t feel obligated to pump out music. 

Certain artists can live off the success of a few albums. Tame Impala had been riding the acclaim of Currents, released in 2015, up until the release of The Slow Rush in February of this year. Frank Ocean’s Blonde is still raking up streams despite it being four years old. With such popularity, why should artists feel obligated to follow up a masterpiece so quickly? If your name is Daniel Ek and you own Spotify, then the obvious answer is money.

Releasing new music has always been about making money for record labels and now streaming services. They don’t care how artful or beautiful the music actually is as long as it sells. And for certain artists, it works.

Westside Gunn recently put out his third full-length project of the year and on every release day, his fans flock to it and listen, even if they fear that he might be oversaturating his own market. However, if he’s accumulating a lot of streams, then that’s three times the amount of money he would have made if he only released one. Gunn has about 40 new songs this year and each stream brings in more cash. He’s up to the task and he gets it done, but not every artist is built that way.

This year, with the COVID-19 pandemic, the only real way for artists to make money is to release new music and sell merch. They can’t tour, which is their biggest source of income. So for Ek to come out and say that artists need to be releasing new material every few months, then it only adds to the pressure of having to top your previous album.

When Bryson Tiller announced his third record, A N N I V E R S A R Y, it felt like he was, for the first time since T R A P S O U L, ready to release the music he’d made on his own accord. And for the most part, Tiller’s latest album sounds like he truly cared about it. 

Though it might be harder for him to get back the popularity he had in 2015, at least he’s doing things on his own terms and not following the guidelines of a selfish streaming corporation that forces him to release music the same way Nerf pumps out Fortnite guns.

The gap between albums should not only be allowed but encouraged for artists who don’t have the creative bandwidth to create art every few months. We can’t expect artists to be our guinea pigs for new content when they live their lives just as much as we do. It’s unfair. So before you comment “New music please!” under your favourite artist’s tweets, take a minute to reflect and see how that might not be in their best interest.

Music Quickspins

QUICKSPINS: Omar Apollo – Apolonio

Apolonio brings us one step closer to figuring out what kind of artist Omar Apollo wants to be.

Omar Apollo’s identity as an indie-pop artist seemed muddled over the last few years. While he has an enchanting voice, his style didn’t seem like it was going to be anything groundbreaking. He could sing, he could write, but it was unclear as to what kind of music he truly wanted to make. Apolonio, Apollo’s first record on a major label, looks to be the crooner’s clearest indication of what he wants to be.

The first track, “I’m Amazing,” has a cocky title but the lyrics on the track tell a different story. Despite hearing his fans tell him he’s amazing, he can’t help but feel it’s a stretch and that he hasn’t got anything more figured out than the rest of us. It’s the first of many laid-back funk-filled tracks across the project’s very brief 26 minutes.

“Want U Around” and “Hey Boy” offer sultry vocals from their respective guests, Ruel and Kali Uchis, the latter of whom is a shining light on an already breezy track. The chemistry Apollo shows with both of them demonstrates his willingness to explore the back seat, something he had little of before Apolonio.

Despite these already high points on the album, Apollo doesn’t shy away from making a song that takes a few more sonic risks. “Dos Uno Nueve (219)” is an acoustic guitar-led song performed entirely in Spanish. Though it wouldn’t do well in the club or at a party, it would certainly make for good horse-riding music in Red Dead Redemption.

The final three tracks are a bit rudimentary and somewhat derivative of other indie-pop songs out there, but aren’t bad by any stretch. “Useless” sometimes feels like Apollo is putting on his best Julian Casablancas impersonation, while “Bi Fren” just sounds like a Khalid leftover.

Apolonio moves us closer to piecing Omar Apollo’s music together. He clearly wears his inspirations on his sleeves, but also tries to combine them so much that they won’t matter. While borrowing the best elements from artists like contemporary indie-pop and R&B artists, it won’t be long before the sound he works with becomes definitively his.


Rating: 7.5

Trial Track: Hey Boy (feat. Kali Uchis)


Music Quickspins


If New Beginnings is like a long car ride at night, then REASON is the driver pouring his heart out while going 100 km/h on the highway

There are certain albums meant for a specific time of day. REASON’s debut album New Beginnings sounds like the beginning of an overnight drive with a friend you know, but not too well. In this hypothetical, you’re not particularly close with this person, but as the night progresses they open up to you. They trust you.

If the first track “Something More” is the first song you play in this fake car ride scenario, it’s akin to the parked-car conversation that literally every car owner knows too well. It’s almost like a church confession. It’s heavy, but it brings you closer to REASON right away. He doesn’t shy from his truths and this honesty is present all across the 14-track project.

REASON has no interest in sulking across the entirety of New Beginnings though. “Stories I Forgot” is a car-rattling banger that sees REASON trying to manipulate his voice not unlike Young Thug to create a distinct chorus, something he doesn’t try more of after. The results are muddy, but it shows the Carson-born rapper is trying to make this car ride bump after pouring out his guts on the previous track.

The album, while still very much a broody affair, maintains its high energy for the majority of its runtime. With only two features across the first seven songs, REASON has a lot to prove to keep listeners on-board, for better or for worse. “Show Stop,” backed with Kendrick Lamar ad-libs and a bouncy instrumental, is a fairly standard showcase. “Favorite Ni**a” is on the aggressive side but REASON’s raps aren’t as engaging as the instrumental.

After “Fall” and an embarrassing bar about Mac Miller, REASON seems to find his stride. With a myriad of features, he seems to be more comfortable sharing the stage than owning it by himself.

“Slow Down” is a syrupy reflective track that emphasizes on taking things in slowly instead of rushing to reach your goals. Though derivative in the message, REASON’s casual cadence and the song’s jazzy beat are worth the four minutes of reflection he offers.

The raw car ride that is New Beginnings closes with an incredible run between “SAUCE” and closing track “Windows Cry.” If the first nine tracks of the album are similar to a high-speed romp down an empty highway, then the final act is the return home, gas almost empty.

REASON’s debut album is masterfully sequenced and an insightful look into the rapper’s fears, goals, and ambitions. He doesn’t always rap as well as he could, but the pure genuineness of his raps show that he’s raw talent ready to develop. Here’s hoping his label Top Dawg Entertainment doesn’t squander his talent.

Rating: 8/10

Trial Track: SAUCE


Protected by the mask: how remaining anonymous in music breathes new life into artistry

How does the rise of Orville Peck compare to Canada’s other elusive singer who rose in 2010?

Every so often, a new artist explodes overnight with the help of a viral single, but with little or no indication about who might have sung it. In 2017, a masked Canadian singer performing under the pseudonym Orville Peck released a single titled “Dead of Night,” a song that would eventually thrust the virtually unknown artist into country music stardom.

To this day, we still don’t know who Orville Peck actually is. We know a few things though. We know he’s older than 20 and younger than 40 and that he identifies as gay. Other than that, there’s only speculation about who he really is.

Really, though, it doesn’t matter. Once Peck released his debut album Pony in 2019 with the help of record label Sub Pop, the mystery that surrounded him made his music that much more enticing. With only a handful of official music videos up on YouTube, most are either over one million views or creeping up to it. These numbers aren’t stratospheric, but considering he’s an unknown Canadian gay country singer, it’s impressive that he’s garnered so much attention.

Though Orville Peck’s rise might seem either improbable or the likely result of a creative marketing team, his road to success is certainly precedented by other elusive singers. In 2010, a teenager whose identity was unknown at the time drew a lot of attention for the release of three different tracks on YouTube. These songs eventually fell on the ears of a certain Toronto legend who goes by the name of Drake and he then uploaded them on his October’s Very Own blog. By now, it’s probably obvious that this protégé is The Weeknd.

Unsurprisingly, the three songs took off. The tracks he posted, “The Morning,” “What You Need,” and “Loft Music” have now accumulated over one hundred million views combined, but when they were released, everyone became enamoured by this Michael Jackson-esque singer who doubled down on the drugged-out, hazy aesthetic he now knows all too well.

At this point, it’s common knowledge that The Weeknd’s real name is Abel Makkonen Tesfaye. And though he’s reached a new level of superstardom, there are still a handful of The Weeknd fans that won’t approach his new music with an open mind simply because he’s ditched the sound and look that he rose to fame with.

It’s true that The Weeknd’s music isn’t the same as his Trilogy days, but it’s also a sign of growth. Not every artist has to be a down-in-the-dumps-twenty-something that makes sad and dark music. But does this newfound happiness that sometimes appears in The Weeknd’s music make his work less palatable. The truth is, it depends.

For singers like Orville Peck, it’s possible that revealing his identity might not change much. His music doesn’t have the same pop sensibilities as The Weeknd, but his whole persona also revolves around the anonymity. It prevents the daily scrutiny that artists face about their personal lives.

Orville Peck and The Weeknd are, of course, not the only two artists to come up with anonymous personas. Daft Punk is notorious for always wearing their robotic helmets. Sia, SBTRKT, and MF Doom all perform with their own masks on. Slipknot’s latest addition to the band is a percussionist who masks himself with an attire not unlike Cillian Murphy’s Scarecrow outfit from Batman Begins.

It’s clear that anonymity in music is more than just a commercial ploy. For relatively new artists, it allows them to bypass the media scrutiny that comes with a viral single. It allows the listener to fall in love with the music itself. That new fan will also become infatuated with the idea their new favourite singer might just be a common person like anyone else. They just so happen to make good music.

In an interview with the New York Times, Orville Peck explained that “[he understands] there is a temptation to try and unmask what [he does], but to do so would be to miss the point entirely.” He’s got a point. The whole idea behind Orville Peck is an artist who only wants to be known for his music and artistry. His anonymity is just a piece of the puzzle.

For some, anonymity is just a veil granted at the beginning of their career. A mask that lets them release music as they please. To others, the secrecy behind the music is just as important as the music itself. Given how obsessed fans have become in 2020 (see Nicki Minaj or Doja Cat’s rabid fanbases), it’s understandable why Orville Peck doesn’t want everyone to know who he is. He’s doing well as it is and he’s probably better off.


Graphic by Taylor Reddam

Music Quickspins

QUICKSPINS: Kamaiyah & Capolow – Oakland Nights

Kamaiyah and Capolow keep each other on their toes on Oakland Nights, a tribute to their hometown.

Kamaiyah knew we were deprived. Before the start of 2020, she’d been fairly quiet since her 2017 mixtape Before I Wake, a short but cutthroat display of the Oakland sound she grew up with. This year alone, she returned with another small mixtape back in February titled Got It Made. On that project, “Digits” was a standout track featuring Capolow, another Bay Area native. The chemistry between the two rappers was so immaculate that they agreed to team up on Oakland Nights, a 10-track EP that sees both artists trading bars and creating sticky hooks across its brief 25-minute runtime.

Capolow sounds right at home rapping alongside Kamaiyah. On “Gimme Dat,” he tries his hand at making a pop-crossover, with a sing-songy hook that has a bounce that would sound as great in the car speakers as it would at 1 a.m. at the club. Their addictive writing is also apparent on “Undercover,” a sensual late-night jam that has Kamaiyah singing an R&B-like hook that must have existed on some early 2000s MTV compilation.

Despite having several tracks that feel like an attempt at crossover success, Kamaiyah and Capolow also indulge in harder-hitting, aggressive rap songs. On “How I Move,” Capolow raps like he’s on a mission. Backed only by an isolated guitar-chord progression and without the help of Kamaiyah, the track is a showcase for Capolow. His flow sounds angry and his lyrics are punchy.

The lyricism, while fine, isn’t what makes the mixtape so addictive. Kamaiyah’s charm and wit are an indication that she can be both a serious rapper and a jokester at once. Some bars might not land the way she might’ve wanted them to, but it’s not even that much of a deterrent because of how confident she sounds while rapping them.

Although this a collaborative tape between two Oakland rappers, it feels both have their own unique conclusions. For Kamaiyah, this is more a victory lap following Got It Made. For Capolow, this is his opportunity to direct more ears to his solo work as a joint-album with an established Oakland rapper will likely turn some heads.

Trial Track: Gimme Dat

Rating: 8/10

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