A word on Yasiin Bey’s comments about Drake and capitalism

Yasiin Bey is most definitely wrong–about some things.

Few things are more predictable than the opinions of someone from a grey generation on the current state of the arts or of general culture. Complaints of decadence, of general intellectual affaiblissement, of failure to honour tradition so often overlay the anxieties of our forebears. This, of course, is the tired “kids these days” trope, alive and well as it’s been for millennia; it is not solely endemic to our own times.

Yoshida Kenko, a 14th-century Japanese monk, complained that “modern fashions seem to keep on growing more and more debased.” Or take the words of the Roman poet Horace, who fretted that newer generations were continuously, and more severely than preceding ones, falling short of the moral standards of their parents’ generation. And Aristotle generalized that the youth, pompous and deluded, simply couldn’t reason for themselves.

The most recent public iteration of this has come in the form of hip-hop legend Yasiin Bey—formerly known as Mos Def—visibly writhing at the thought of granting Drake acceptance into the pantheon of hip-hop, preferring instead the loaded categorization of “pop.” Like Bey, probably many elderly rap statesmen are unhappy with the large hand Drake is thought to have played in shifting hip-hop towards aural appeal rather than substance-heavy lyricism.

But surely, the artist behind If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late and the timestamp series cannot be denied his rightful place in the genre’s rafters, however needlessly contrarian one may feel. Drake is more than capable of lyrically dense, introspective tracks (“From Time,” “Weston Road Flows,” “Champagne Poetry”), wordplay potages (his feature on “Churchill Downs” is still unquestionably one of the finest moments of the genre this decade), boastful anthems (“0 To 100/The Catch Up”), and classic rap collaborations in which he has had the upper hand over his song mates (“Aston Martin Music”). Bey, then, is most definitely wrong to deny Drake his rightful place in (the higher tiers of) hip-hop’s rich history.

But perhaps he is not all wrong. The way we consume music has indeed radically changed over the past decade. As we have been told so often, in the cacophony of artists, songs, and albums now available on streaming platforms, there is a persistent need to stand out. The result is often shorter, blander, more easily digestible songs intended almost solely to bolster artists’ numbers across streaming platforms, with little semblance of human soul undergirding the work. (There is much to say about the role of record labels in this matter as well). The art may not be dying, but it is certainly acquiring a more vulgarly commodified aspect than it did in the CD or vinyl era.

This is hardly deniable, not simply existential petulance on the part of withering generations. And this observation cannot be divorced from the consumerist culture we are immersed in every moment of our lives. As Bey hinted—and he is right here—the streaming game faithfully mirrors our irrational shopping urges. 

Our attention spans have been colonized, in the lurid, desensitizing panoply of stories, reels, posts, ads, and whatever else, to heed only what stands out as most pleasant, yet almost all of it is just a profoundly imbecile distraction. As soon as we make a purchase, too, it suddenly bethinks us that we have a number more needless ancillary commodities to acquire.

For scrolling and buying, our brains’ reward systems have been hijacked. The analogy with the perpetual streaming of bland and empty music can’t be missed here: it is, in itself, an insatiable hunger for more meaningful art that can never be fulfilled by that sort of crass grifting. What we need, I suggest, is to train ourselves to recognize the more substantial, and orient our minds towards it. And here it becomes necessary to acknowledge the elephant in the room.

Take Drake’s song “Search & Rescue” for instance, which, although sung in a fairly decent, catchy tune, is a disparageable reminder that Drake’s creative engines are sputtering (aside from it being boring and repetitive, he says “mami” a dozen times—he turned 37 last October). He has also failed to produce an inspired album that has won critical assent for almost a decade now and is oddly seeking to reignite years-old, settled, one-sided “beefs” to distract him from what is obviously a terrible state of creative bankruptcy and inertia. 

These are all straightforward signs of an artist who, devoted to the streaming game, has grown weary of a diligent and meaningful artistic process, and swapped it for vacuous numbers. The result, then, is vacuous art, his recent projects replete with songs not unlike the worthless commodities we feel an insensible urge to accrue. Here, Bey has not erred.

But of course, we must see that in doing so, he has grown terribly bored of the numbers themselves. If he hadn’t, the number of thoughtless projects we receive from him would not multiply at the rate it does. And yet the albums keep coming, themeless and bloated as they are, ceaseless reminders that Old Drake™ is never coming back because he never left, having long resisted personal and artistic evolution that could potentially jeopardize his grip on the charts. What now remains is an overgrown 25-year-old nearing 40, still roaming the club’s floors. But dance partners are bound to leave, eventually—no empire lasts forever.

Concert Reviews Music

Armand Hammer sells out Bar Le Ritz PDB

One of underground hip-hop’s finest duos returns to Montreal.

On Jan. 20, billy woods and ELUCID made their return to Montreal. Known together as Armand Hammer, the New York rappers kicked off the second leg of their tour in support of their latest album We Buy Diabetic Test Strips at Bar Le Ritz PDB on Jean-Talon Ouest Street. 

The rappers played a sold-out show for a packed crowd that easily hit the bar’s 300-person capacity. At the start of the show, they announced that it was their first show of the year, prompting an enthusiastic crowd reaction. The room was dimly lit by a few red spotlights, setting a true underground feel. 

The show officially kicked off with songs from We Buy Diabetic Test Strips. Hearing these tracks gave weight to woods’ claim about the sound system: from the looming low-end on “The Unreliable Flexibility of Space and Time” to the brash, abrasive cymbal crashes throughout “Trauma Mic,” the sound quality was pristine. woods had previously played at the venue twice in 2022, including once as Armand Hammer. “I know that the subwoofer in this venue is crazy,” woods shared with the crowd. 

Armand Hammer’s albums are skillful displays of lyricism, and their live shows are no different. Both MCs rapped every word without missing a beat, and their lyrical performances were enhanced by their compelling deliveries. ELUCID swayed along to the beat while perfectly delivering his signature, unorthodox flow, which is scattered yet perfectly linear. Meanwhile, woods’ delivery was bold and compelling, occasionally bordering on yelling. 

Every bar was razor-sharp, and the sheer power of his voice commanded full attention. The onstage chemistry between them was undeniable, like any other show: they ad-libbed in synchrony, and their back-and-forth repetition during the end of tracks made their choruses feel like mantras.

From the psychedelic haziness of “Landlines” and “Woke Up and Asked Siri How I’m Gonna Die,” to the underground rumble of “Blocked Call” and “The Key is Under The Mat,” the tracks perfectly showcased the sonic versatility that made Hammer’s latest album so unique and enticing. 

Fans were also treated to songs from all across woods’ and ELUCID’s joint and solo catalogues. ELUCID performed “Spellling” and “Mangosteen” from his 2022 album I Told Bessie, both of which had guitar-esque twangs ringing out beautifully over the speakers. woods dove into Hiding Places (with Kenny Segal), a classic among underground rap fans for its harrowing nature. Its tracks made for some of the night’s best performances: “Checkpoints” was ridden with strong emotion, and the hook on “Spongebob”—his most popular song—made for the strongest call-and-response from the crowd. 

The pair also threw in two of their most widely known songs with Earl Sweatshirt, “Falling out the Sky” and “Tabula Rasa.” They wrapped things up with “Stonefruit” from Haram (2021), just like their 2022 show at Bar Le Ritz PDB.

Throughout the show, the MCs showed a strong connection with fans. They raised the volume twice to the crowd’s liking and stuck around after the show to sell merch and sign records. The artists who truly love their art are the same ones willing to lug around stacks of vinyl in their suitcases and take Ubers to shows. Between captivating, unparalleled music, compelling live performances, and one-on-one conversation opportunities, Armand Hammer are truly for the fans.


Designed by Hip-Hop

How hip-hop culture is informing the artistic works of Concordia students Mariam Sy and Jaden Warren.

This year marks the 50th anniversary of hip-hop. Since its inception, the genre has ushered in several crops of new artists who have allowed for multiple generations to carry hip-hop through five decades. 

With the rise of several rappers also came their entrepreneurial ventures: big names such as Jay-Z, Pharrell Williams and Kanye West have made business moves in every domain from fashion and film to artwork and beverages. In permeating various spheres and artistic fields within the mainstream, hip-hop has created a trickle-down effect that continues to inspire today’s youth.

Mariam Sy is a communications student and filmmaker heavily inspired by Tyler, The Creator. She became enamoured with his music upon discovering it in her early teens and further gravitated toward him because of his other career ventures. 

The California rapper is a filmmaker, fashion designer and entrepreneur who directs his own music videos, owns the streetwear brand Golf Wang, and hosts an annual music festival in California called the Camp Flog Gnaw Carnival (est. 2012). This essentially opened Sy’s eyes to the idea of branching out: “You don’t have to be labelled as one act—you can be a multidisciplinary one.” This is what inspired her idea for a collective titled “LES ENFANTS.”

Sy has released numerous short films to her Vimeo account, many of which are directly inspired by the music and visuals of artists like Kendrick Lamar and Jay-Z (see “HURT”). She sees the throughline between hip-hop and cinema as natural. “They both draw from human experiences and emotions,” she said. “They weave a cultural fabric that mirrors and influences the stories of our current society and those to come.” She believes hip-hop’s wide crossover appeal is the result of it not strictly being a musical genre, but rather a culture gathering a multitude of themes and ideas that can apply to masses of people. 

Design student Jaden Warren also sees hip-hop as boundless, bigger than music. For him, it is a convergence of various subcultures and niches including youth culture, skateboarding, streetwear, high fashion, and more. His personal style and projects are directly inspired by rappers who welded fashion and hip-hop together like A$AP Rocky, Playboi Carti and Kanye West. Warren proclaims that “all hip-hop musicians wanna look fly,” and prides himself on helping artists bring a specific vision or style to life. This is evident in his work with local rappers: he designed a custom “4EVERYOUTH” jacket for KeBenjii! and curated the visual aesthetic for Justin Tatone’s BANE & BLESSING album, inspired by vintage fashion and Balenciaga’s creative director Demna. 

Warren believes that hip-hop crosses over easily into other domains because it is a form of artistic expression. He also cites designer Virgil Abloh as a primary influence, given Abloh’s extensive work within the hip-hop sphere and ascension in the fashion realm, most notably becoming the creative director at Louis Vuitton before his tragic passing in 2021.

Abloh’s success story as a Ghanaian-American man in fashion has inspired Warren’s mission statement: “I want to show Black kids that it’s cool to be creative.” Above all, the Concordia student is motivated by his youthful approach to creating, which is centred around simply having fun and feeling like a kid. 
The young designer’s most prolific work to date has been his clothing project “I can’t buy love so I buy clothes.” However, like hip-hop, he refuses to be bound to one field or title. As he puts it, he just likes to create stuff. The brand’s latest iteration is set to be revealed in his upcoming drop, set for release on Dec. 1 via @assassinsvizualz on Instagram.

Music Quickspins

QUICKSPINS: The Alchemist – Flying High, Part 2

The producer reaches new heights by rapping all over his latest EP.

Fans of hip-hop are no strangers to The Alchemist. With an extensive catalogue that spans back to the late ‘90s, the American music artist has continued to dominate in recent years by releasing collaborative projects with contemporary figures like Action Bronson, Curren$y, Freddie Gibbs, and Larry June, among many others. Alongside these artists, he also began releasing small sets of EPs: first, the This Thing of Ours series in 2021, and now, Flying High.

In the past, The Alchemist has laid down guest rap verses on tracks with Action Bronson (“Arnold and Danny”), Larry June (“60 Days”), and most recently on “Midnight Oil” from the original Flying High. Flying High, Part 2 marks a new milestone—for the first time in his career, the producer is tackling a full project as an MC. The rapping throughout the EP is solid: he flows in and out of different pockets, switching speed between lines as he uses more and fewer syllables, similarly to how Action Bronson does it. This delivery makes each and every one of Alchemist’s lines stand out, illuminating his knack for wordplay.

The EP kicks off with “Turkish Link,” a lavish jazz-based cut. The song’s beat is backed by horns which evoke a triumphant entrance. Alc’s bars are a mix of introspectiveness with some boasts about his achievements. He notably recalls having “slept on couches and stayed inside of basements / Put in major pain to get minor placements.”

“Phil Drummond” follows, backed by a sinister instrumental. It features a siren-like sound that looms faintly in the background, helping maintain the song’s menacing tone. Conway the Machine is a great addition to the track, given his bold delivery and statements like “Every sentence in my lecture is intricate architecture.” The track rounds out nicely with a mellow horn section which effectively segues into a skit as the next track begins.

“Vertigo” is one of the most entertaining tracks on the record. It begins with an oscillating sonar-like sound that leads into a funky, warbly instrumental. Alchemist provides a colourful, lighthearted backdrop over which he drops witty lines. Given such an animated beat, who better to join in than Action Bronson? Bronson’s verse is just as fun and is packed with his usual references to food and vivid imagery—most notably, bringing his own food to a restaurant in a Tupperware and wrestling with a leprechaun.

“Royal Hand” marks the reunion of The Alchemist and Oh No as the duo Gangrene, for the first time since 2019. The track features an ominous, stuttery melody paired with slow-tempo, punchy drums. The Alchemist adopts an impressively quick flow and rides the beat perfectly. Oh No handles the second verse with the same momentum with fewer breaks, making his performance even more relentless. The track is grim and hypnotic, and the fast-paced rapping performances make it even more mesmerizing.

The closing track “Paint Different” is another jazzy number. Its soothing instrumental also features horns, though they are much more relaxing in fashion. The soundscape sounds like fine dining by the sunset on a European coast, a setting that The Alchemist’s lavish verse perfectly captures as he raps about visiting Europe, drinking wine, and daydreaming. Curren$y feels right at home on this track that is sonically reminiscent of his and Alc’s 2022 collaborative project Continuance.

Flying High, Part 2 is an unprecedented extensive showcase of The Alchemist’s talent as a rapper, one that also features amazing production per usual. The motif of horns ties the soundscape together nicely whether the beats are bold and baleful or soothing and slow tempo. The Alchemist brings his usual suspects along for the ride whilst proving that he can hold his own beside them as an MC.

Score: 8/10

Trial Track: Royal Hand

Concert Reviews Music

Montreal rappers bring on the “Beats & Bars”

Mike Shabb, Jo Dolo, CHUNG, Jo Compadre and Mr. Severe showcased the city’s broad range of hip-hop sounds, styles, and talent at Ausgang Plaza.

The Astred collective is home to some of Montreal’s best up-and-coming artists. It notably includes Jo Dolo and Mr. Severe who both performed at the city’s Metro Metro Festival earlier this year. On Oct. 7, they hosted a live show at Ausgang Plaza in Montreal’s Rosemont neighbourhood for a crowd of around 150 people. They were joined by Jo Compadre, CHUNG and Mike Shabb.

Mr. Severe kicked off the show, proving his talent as an MC. His backing track proved unnecessary as he ripped through all his verses with a bold, captivating delivery. He did not miss a single beat and his fierce vocal presence persisted through all sorts of production, from vintage 50 Cent-style cuts to trap beats.

Jo Compadre joined Mr. Severe for their collaboration “Nothing Lasts Forever” before taking the stage on his own. He performed songs like “For The Cause” and “Palo Santo” with a strong and well-articulated voice, despite sometimes ad-libbing along to parts of verses rather than rapping them. His performance showcased an impressive, rapid and focused flow that he tackled with a brazen demeanour.

CHUNG’s stage presence was stellar. Her delivery was simultaneously slick and sexy, yet cutthroat and poignant. It is perfectly complemented by her beat selection, composed of smooth soul samples. Most of her setlist was taken from her recent mixtape Chung Shui II with Cotola. The grooves on “Everyone” and “You Know I Gotta” rung out irresistibly through the speakers. “The Drum Sound” paid homage to her Jamaican heritage with its reggae beat and her use of patois on the track. “Sweet Dreams” contrasted as an ominous, hard-hitting boom-bap cut. 

Jo Dolo brought a change of pace and a burst of energy by starting off with French-language drill music. His tone was remarkably cold, which allowed him to equally shine over slow-paced, gritty boom-bap production. Dolo successfully drew energy from the crowd, regardless of musical style. Fans in the crowd bounced their hands as he spits introspective rhymes and jumped around, energetically swinging his dreads.

Mike Shabb closed out the show with a showcase of his sonic versatility throughout the years. He performed his melodic rap hit “SPORTS!” (2019) before launching into material from his recent collaborative EP Shadow Moses with Montreal producer Nicholas Craven. Craven joined him onstage for a triumphant and proud display of the fruits of their creative alliance. He also premiered two new songs: the grim “Hurry Up,” produced by Belgian rapper JeanJass, and the lighthearted, jazzy “Hey Young World, Pt. 3.” He also paid tribute to fallen friend and frequent collaborator Jeune Loup, performing his viral tracks “Sensuelle” and “Back sur le BS”: two of the biggest rap tracks to ever come out of Quebec.

All in all, the event was a success, bringing together a handful of local MCs equipped with a variety of impressive flows, sounds, and styles.

Music Quickspins

QUICKSPINS: Westside Gunn – And Then You Pray For Me

The Buffalo MC balances tradition with a new direction in the sequel to Pray for Paris.

In 2020, Westside Gunn’s third studio album Pray for Paris was released, quickly becoming a favourite among fans. Famed designer Virgil Abloh was the catalyst behind this album: he not only created the artwork but also invited the Griselda Records founder on a life-changing trip to Paris Fashion Week, which inspired the album’s creation. Nearly two years after Virgil’s passing in 2021, Gunn spent most of 2023 travelling around Europe, also stopping in Egypt and Dubai. This prompted the recording of his latest album And Then You Pray For Me. Released on Oct. 13, it is the sequel to Pray for Paris.

Many tracks on And Then You Pray For Me recall the plush and expansive soundscape on Pray for Paris. Songs “FLYGOD 2x” and “Babylon Bis” combine melancholic xylophone and piano loops with dusty boom-bap drums, resulting in the same gritty yet elegant soundscape that graced Pray for Paris. “House of GLORY” features a sunny and shiny classical music melody that adds a degree of fun to both Gunn’s and featured artist Stove God Cooks’ unorthodox singing. Gunn’s entrance is especially entertaining as he abruptly begins singing “baby” in a high-pitched voice. The orchestral loop on “KITCHEN LIGHTS” is stunning and provides the same duo with a luxurious backdrop. The instrumental’s beauty radiates the Parisian opulence that Gunn aimed to emulate on Pray for Paris: the resulting song sounds like a masterpiece. Elsewhere, several tracks follow the usual Griselda formula and the outcome is as solid as usual. “Mama’s Primetime” is an ominous boom-bap cut that would fit perfectly on WWCD, the 2019 album released by Griselda (as a trio composed of Gunn, Benny the Butcher, and Conway the Machine). “Suicide in Selfridges” is the latest of many fun, upbeat tracks where Gunn raps over quirky beats from his frequent collaborator, producer Conductor Williams.

The rest of the album sounds drastically different, as And Then You Pray For Me sees Westside Gunn extensively venturing into trap music—a style he has seldom dabbled with on his existing solo material. Although it is not inherently bad, Gunn’s delivery over trap beats is notably slow-paced and tends to veer off-beat. It quickly becomes redundant as he approaches many of these tracks in the same way. The production itself is also a make-or-break factor: Tay Keith’s production on “Kostas” feels like a grand event, yet the Miguel The Plug beats on “LL BOOL GUN” and “Ultra GriZelda” are painfully basic. Gunn’s inclusion of veteran trap artists (Jeezy, Rick Ross) and DJs (Drama, Holiday, Swamp Izzo) is an intentional homage to trap music’s early prime in the late 2000s. The album’s trap component is built upon a strong foundation, although its execution is occasionally shoddy.

Like other Gunn projects, there are many features, many of which bring their A-game. JID is a show-stopper on “Mama’s PrimeTime” and all the Griselda Records mainstays fulfill their usual duties effectively. Trap veterans Jeezy and Rick Ross feel right at home on their respective tracks, and Denzel Curry brings a load of energy to “Ultra GriZelda.” The Westside Gunn sex song “Chloe” returns on an ostentatious, wildly graphic duet with Ty Dolla $ign. The title track is an amazing closer courtesy of KayCyy. He sings and raps softly over a soothing, ambient soundscape backed by hints of church bells. The whole thing evokes a closing sermon and wraps up the album on a perfect note.

Overall, And Then You Pray For Me is half the sequel that it sets out to be. The album starts off strong with the traditional Griselda sound, recapturing the greatness of Gunn’s existing catalogue and the high-class sound of Pray For Paris. The trap cuts essentially bog down the album’s midsection and most of the latter half. Gunn’s new direction showcases potential but often borders on being a cheap execution of a certain sound. Thankfully, the closing track catches up to round out the album nicely. The takeaway is that Gunn’s stylistic change is by no means bad: it just requires refinement.

Score: 6.5/10

Trial Track: KITCHEN LIGHTS (feat. Stove God Cooks)

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