Dear art industry, it’s not me … it’s you

Reflecting on art, post-lockdown

In the past six months, I have not visited a single art show, gallery opening, exhibition, or museum. Perhaps this is the longest amount of time I’ve gone without reading press releases, interviewing artists, or trying to find some sort of sociopolitical angle to approach an exhibition from. Yet, I have to admit… I kind of like it.

After spending the majority of lockdown being out of a job like many others, I have had tons of time to think about the art industry, which I have honestly always been quite hesitant to be a part of. After racking my brain about the place art holds in society, both amidst chaos and mundanity — and participating in both an internship and residency, alongside many other writers and artists, for the better part of the summer months — it is safe to say, I am not the only one who feels this way.

I do not believe this is solely a reflection on my evolving relationship with the art industry as a result of personal values. Rather, it’s a reflection on the circumstances that have caused the relationship itself to change. It has become clear that many others, and myself, are hesitant to make a career out of this. Not because we do not love art, but, well, because the industry doesn’t appear to love us.

The past few months have been eye-opening, to say the least. Among the things that have been on my mind is pay. When artists and writers are going unpaid for work that continues to get published, how can we be expected to stay? The fact that I get paid more (and on time) by student media is a poor reflection on the many institutions that hire writers and artists.

And don’t get me wrong, I’m aware that these were all issues before lockdown began. However, lockdown seems to have brought these issues to the forefront for most non-essential workers, many of whom have been struggling to get by (and many of whom struggle to get by, even pre-lockdown, without the help of a second, more stable job).

How can we not struggle when getting a decent job within the industry requires years of experience and multiple internships under our belts?

If it weren’t for the fact that I’m fortunate enough to still live at home, I wouldn’t have been able to participate in any of my internship experiences, all of which were unpaid. Even still, I had to work other jobs and pull seven-day work weeks to afford transport, cell phone bills, and other necessities.

Upon returning to work in July as a copywriter for an international online luxury retail platform, I was told by a coworker ten years my senior that I had made a great decision in opting to drop my second major in Art History. They added that even after ten years in the industry, they still hadn’t been awarded a raise or promotion and noted that I’d still be able to work in the arts because “it’s all about networking anyway,” and I’d “already made [my] contacts.” It is a sad reality, but a reality nonetheless. Years of studying and dedication won’t guarantee you a position unless you meet the right people. I guess that’s business, baby, as they say.

But even when you do land a position, where does this place you amidst today’s uncertainty and ever-evolving technological landscape?

With museums and galleries being closed for the greater portion of the summer, and exhibitions moving online, the role of museums was inevitably brought into question. What purpose do they serve when one can now access the entirety of most major collections from anywhere in the world for free? The value of these “prestigious” institutions seem … almost, dare I say … questionable.

Despite it all, art remains one of my favorite sociocultural forms of expression, and art writing one of my favorite types of journalism. I guess you could say it’s a love-hate relationship. While switching majors has proven to be a more viable option for me, based on my personal career goals, art journalism is still a long-term goal of mine. Until then, leaders of the art industry, you have some work to do.


Graphic by Rose-Marie Dion


The Memphis Rap Renaissance: A look at the city’s best works of 2020 so far

With an already stellar lineup of releases so far in 2020, Memphis hip hop is surging

Two months into 2020, Memphis, Tennessee’s hip hop scene has been heating up. The region, mainly known in hip hop for the incredibly influential Three 6 Mafia, is seeing a surge of great young talent and starting the decade off with some very strong releases.

Yo Gotti: Untrapped

Unlike the other three artists on this list, Yo Gotti is an elder statesman in the genre. The self-proclaimed “King of Memphis” is over 20 years into his career, with Untrapped being his tenth studio release.

While the album doesn’t break any new ground sonically, Gotti himself displays some real growth. There are a handful of moments on here, such as on “Big Homie Rules,” where his reflections on life and his stature in the industry display a new, more mature side of Gotti.

The album also has a lot of crossover appeal. After 20 years in the game, it’s clear that Gotti knows what makes a hit. With consistently great production, some genuinely catchy hooks and a star-studded feature list, this project is solid throughout.

Moneybagg Yo: Time Served

Since signing to Yo Gotti’s CMG record label in 2016, Moneybagg Yo has been building a strong buzz as an artist to watch from Memphis. On his third studio album, he has mastered his formula, delivering arguably his best effort yet.

On Time Served, Yo’s ability to create fun, bouncy and boisterous bangers is on full display. The production throughout is filled with rattling hi-hats and thudding 808s that match Yo’s energy perfectly.

The incredibly deep roster of features on this tape range from solid to fantastic. Future’s verse on “Federal Fed” is a standout as his influence on Yo is extremely apparent, resulting in the two meshing very well together. 

This is an extremely solid project; what it lacks in content, it more than makes up for with fantastic instrumentals and catchy hooks. While the few attempted “love” songs are obvious lows, they are not enough to take away from how consistently great the album is otherwise.

Key Glock: Yellow Tape 

From the opening lines on the album’s intro “1997,” Key Glock’s Yellow Tape is an all-out show of confidence and charisma.

Laid over instrumentals that take heavy influence from his hometown’s rich hip hop history, Glock’s verses command the attention of the listener. The level of conviction in his vocal delivery makes even the simplest of hooks catchy and captivating as well.

The only real negative is the repetitive nature of the content through the project. Still, this is a great album and it’ll be exciting to see where Glock goes from here.

Duke Deuce: Memphis Massacre 2

There’s something to be said for Duke Deuce’s admiration for the southern legends that came before him. The sound of Memphis Massacre 2 bounces between reviving the crunk era, revisiting the dark and atmospheric sound popularized by Three 6 Mafia/Hypnotize Minds and a few autotune-drenched trap bangers for good measure.

The project kicks off with extremely high energy, and Deuce carries it throughout the entire runtime. With a variety of flows in his arsenal and a knack for aggressive yet infectious hooks, the rambunctious bounce in his delivery is absolutely contagious.

Tracks like the remix of the viral hit “Crunk Ain’t Dead” exemplify these qualities. The song features Three 6 Mafia co-founders Juicy J and Project Pat as well as crunk pioneer Lil Jon and is an absolute firecracker, exploding with high energy performances from all parties.

Overall, this is one of the year’s most entertaining and enticing hip hop projects. Its ability to sound contemporary while revisiting sounds from past eras gives this album an identity that is all its own and makes for an extremely entertaining listening experience.


Music Quickspins

Pop Smoke Lives On

From Brooklyn to Brixton, drill music keeps growing and Pop Smoke was proof

When TMZ tweeted that 20-year-old drill rapper Bashar Barakah Jackson aka Pop Smoke passed away after being shot during a home invasion, messages of shock and condolences flooded social media. Death is the great equalizer; it does not respect status or person. But it seemed especially cruel that Pop Smoke’s life would be taken away just as he was climbing the ladder to superstardom and less than a year after the release of his breakout single.

While he had already garnered some buzz before its release, “Welcome to the Party was the song that introduced most people to the distinct vocal stylings of Pop Smoke. His voice was deep with the type of gravelly, coarse texture usually reserved for 63-year-old, pack-a-day smokers. He was able to manipulate his pitch or tone to stretch and pull it in different directions.  This combined with his brash, confident delivery—comparable to fellow New Yorker 50 Cent—managed to turn what would otherwise be throwaway lines into quotable, or more aptly, captionable bars.

It is a testament to his talent that he was able to transform “Welcome to the Party,” a statement usually followed by “bathroom is over here, snacks are over there” into a menacing warning cry, one that said, “enter this party at your own risk.”

Beyond his own abilities, one of the things that stood out in his music was the beat, a collection of syncopated hi-hats and 808 slides that in theory shouldn’t have worked, but somehow did. If Pop Smoke was the party’s host, the instrumental was its ambience.

It was like nothing we had ever heard before, that is unless you had been paying attention to the other side of the Atlantic.  

Drill music began in Chicago in the early 2010s. In a genre like hip hop that can be reticent to sub-categorization, drill carved out a niche with its hard-hitting ominous take on trap instrumentals, dark and aggressive lyrics, and DIY aesthetic.

The fact that drill’s earliest stars like Chief Keef, Lil Durk, and producer Young Chop were teenagers added to its notoriety as it juxtaposed the innocence of youth with the violence, both in the music and outside of it.

There was a raw authenticity about the whole thing. When Chief Keef told us what he didn’t like, we f*cking believed it.

The internet was the primary method of sharing and consuming the music, there weren’t middlemen. When you watched a video you got the sense that it was produced, recorded and shot all in the same house—possibly because the person was on house arrest.

Drill quickly made its way to the UK and not content with just being consumers, young people began making their own tracks. While the subject of who did it first is hotly debated, crews from Brixton—150, and 67 (pronounced six seven) began making their own songs around the same time.

Just like drill stateside, these songs told stories that were specific to the lives and neighbourhoods of the people who made them, but most of the initial instrumentals were the same as those their American counterparts were rapping on, often sourced from “type beats” channels on YouTube.

As the genre grew, producers and rappers in the UK crafted a sound that was their own, distinct from its original windy city origins.

It was that sound that provided the backdrop for Pop Smoke’s “Welcome to the Party,” as well as his mixtapes Meet The Woo 1 & 2 which were mostly produced by Londoner 808Melo.

Drill has come full circle. American rappers influenced their contemporaries in the UK who in turn created and developed their own sound. That sound came back to influence drill in New York where Pop Smoke would find it.

Pop Smoke wasn’t the first one to use these beats, but Michael Jackson wasn’t the first to moonwalk either. He started his career by remixing songs from other popular Brooklyn drill rappers like Sheff G and Sleepy Hallow who had already been spitting on UK drill beats.

What he did was catapult that sound from a niche audience to anthem status. “Welcome to the Party” currently has 34 million views on Youtube and “Gatti,” his collaboration with hip hop superstar Travis Scott, was telling of the rapper’s rapid ascent to hip-hop’s upper rungs.

The UK’s urban music scene is probably the healthiest it’s ever been, drill songs like Russ’ “Gun Lean” and Unknown T’s “Homerton B ” have achieved chart success. The next stage of commercial success is breaking into the US which has almost five times the population of the UK.

Pop Smoke was a bridge between the scenes in the UK and the US. The level of success he achieved in his short career is a positive for drill worldwide and could be an important step in opening up US hip-hop consumers to sounds from the UK.

And one last thing, you cannot say Pop and forget the Smoke.

 It is important.

Graphic by Sasha Axenova.


It’s time to burn award shows

The Grammys, AMAs, Soul Train Awards, among others have proved they know nothing about music. It’s time we stopped caring

The past couple of weeks have been messy for music award ceremonies. The Grammys saw immediate backlash after they announced a hip hop lineup that only featured men in the “Rap Album of the Year” category, and white men, specifically, in the “Producer of the Year” category.

The 2019 American Music Awards (AMAs) continued to prove that they don’t understand what “genre” means either. Apparently, Taylor Swift’s Lover is a rock album. Apparently, Post Malone’s Hollywood’s Bleeding is a hip hop album. Both of them are definitely pop.

The 2019 Soul Train Awards gave Lizzo the “Album/Mixtape of the Year” award for her debut, Cuz I Love You, an album that could barely be described as “soul.” Dreamville artist Ari Lennox penned a lengthy essay in tweet-form that singled out these awards for not choosing her, despite making an album deeply rooted in soul, in favour of an album that simply dominated the charts.

Award shows are notorious for getting things wrong. Lest we forget the infamous 2014 Grammys where Macklemore took home the “Best Rap Album” over Kendrick Lamar’s 2012 masterpiece, Good Kid, M.A.A.D City. It’s no secret that those who choose the winners are out-of-touch with society.

More artists have figured out that a Grammy nomination really means nothing. Drake’s victory speech for “God’s Plan” winning “Best Rap Song” was a direct attack on how the Grammy winners are selected; a speech that was cut early.

Drake’s right, too. The Grammys are meaningless, as is every other award show.  It’s a political game that benefits only those who seem appropriate to win according to its obtuse voters. 

The hip hop section of the Grammys continues to suffer the most. Cardi B is the only woman in the “Best Rap” performance category, and it’s for a song that isn’t even her own (Offset’s “Clout”). There isn’t a single woman in the “Best Rap/Sung Performance,” “Best Rap Song,” or “Best Rap Album” categories.

Of course, including women for the sole purpose of including women is wrong, but when you have albums like Megan Thee Stallion’s Fever, Rapsody’s Eve, and Rico Nasty’s Anger Management, all released within the same year, it becomes harder to imagine why they would choose Meek Mill’s Championships or Dreamville’s Revenge of the Dreamers III compilation.

Sure, those albums were fine and this isn’t to discredit them, but those albums only appear on the list out of respect for the artists. If J. Cole wasn’t attached to the Dreamville compilation, it would have been largely ignored. If Meek Mill hadn’t been through his messy legal troubles, Championships would have been ignored too.

The Grammys have been getting it wrong for years and they still continue to prove that they’ll choose the safe choice over anyone who rightly deserves it. They have taken a few steps forward in terms of diversity, especially when looking at Lizzo’s lead in the nominations, but she is nothing if not a safe choice as her vanilla pop music has taken the radio by storm. The same could be said with Lil Nas X as well. 

Until the Grammys become more daring with their choices, it’s time to stop caring. Burn the Grammys.


Graphic by @sundaeghost


Questioning materiality and artistic significance

In a time of ecological and economic crises, what significance does material culture hold? Can art play a role beyond aestheticism?

Material culture - the study of objects and the physical space they occupy, including works of art as objects - raises many questions in the art world, including the place artworks hold in defining a cultural history and identity. These questions are a constant topic of conversation among artists, viewers, and curators alike.

Having visited numerous UNESCO sites, historic landmarks, and almost every major city on my solo trip to Morocco in May, I was eager to see what the contemporary art scene was like and how it would compare to that of Montreal.

I had not read anything about the space prior to my visit to the Museum of African Contemporary Art Al Maaden (MACAAL), in Marrakech, Morocco. Nor had I done any research; I had no context as to what I would see or any expectations, for that matter.

The exhibition at the time of my visit, Material Insanity, featured the work of over 30 African artists, both from the continent and its diaspora, including Berlin-based conceptual artist Adrian Piper, and music collective KOKOKO!.

As the title suggests, Material Insanity explores the significance of material culture and commodification and creates a discourse surrounding collective cultural experiences revolving around materiality and visual imagery.

I’ve been thinking about this exhibition a lot since returning from my trip and as I visit many new art shows in and around Montreal. The exhibition and museum, as a whole, creates a space for engaging in a dialogue about the collective and individual experiences of artists throughout the continent, through references to culture, politics, and economics.

The MACAAL creates an environment where artists and viewers can converse about and reflect on issues that pertain to their cultural identity and experiences. I truly felt as though, for the first time, I was visiting a museum that held cultural significance and begged for answers to pertinent questions.

Takadiwa’s work, Washen Again, speaks to the importance of imagery and visual culture while simultaneously playing a pertinent role in an ongoing ecological crisis. Photo by Lorenza Mezzapelle.

Having previously read and written about Moffat Takadiwa, a multi-disciplinary Zimbabwean artist, I was overwhelmed, to say the least, when I saw one of his works featured in the museum.

Takadiwa’s work explores personal and collective histories through the use of recycled and found objects. His visual interpretation of current issues makes a commentary on material culture in conjunction with the economic crisis of his country and community.

Takadiwa’s piece, Washen Again, is composed of toothbrushes and dishwashing soap bottle tops. The large scale sculpture shares similar qualities to an intricate rug; the found objects placed methodically to give the appearance of woven details, alternating in tones of red, green, and beige.

The featured works’ significance speaks to the importance of imagery and visual culture, while simultaneously playing a pertinent role in an ongoing ecological crisis. The act of repurposing found objects that no longer serve a purpose, and breathing new life into them, demonstrates the artistic capabilities of the exhibited artists.

The MACAAL’s creation and development of a dialogue - which at once explores relevant cultural issues and contributes to a continent’s cultural history and international representation - is a component that lacks from most large art institutions.

I cannot think of anything else that fully encompasses being an artist or curator, other than creating artwork with all that one has instead of buying new.

Further information about the Museum of African Contemporary Art Al Maaden can be found at A 3D tour of Material Insanity can be found at


Photos by Lorenza Mezzapelle


A look at Kanye West’s influence on hip hop before the release his new album

“Jesus is King” is set to drop…at some point

When he isn’t stirring up the world with controversial political and cultural remarks, Kanye West is making headlines in the world of fashion. Musically, West hasn’t made news, apart from the cancelling of Yhandi back in September of 2018.

While the musical phenom has been laying low this year (certainly by his standards), that notion will surely change when his upcoming album Jesus is King is released. While many may argue that this will result in Yeezy once again disrupting the hip-hop hierarchy, I would argue that his position in said structure – as King and Supreme Ruler, has never faltered.

West arose in a time period dominated by hip hop artists whose lyrics generally evoked expensive lifestyles and gangster personas, with the unspoken consensus being that these were themes that needed to be discussed in order to be taken seriously in the industry. At the time, West earned his credibility through his creativity as a producer for the record label Roc-A-Fella.

In releasing his debut album, The College Dropout, the self-promoted rapper did two things; he bridged the gap in hip hop that emerged between mainstream and underground empires over the last decade, and created a successful “regular guy” rapping persona that was significantly more relatable to listeners.

Wearing his original pink polo, West modified the prerequisites to having a fruitful career in the genre by rapping on subjects like materialism, religion, and family. By changing the general perception of what a rapper must be, he paved the way for new sets of talent that may have never emerged otherwise.

West induced a plethora of musical concepts consumers are exposed to today. The confident Late Registration formed a celebratory and grandiose feeling while he introduced instrumentation from other genres that hadn’t been heard in rap music before. If West needed any more justification of his dominance, he got it when hard-hitting Graduation outsold 50 Cent’s Curtis in a clash between contemporary and traditional rap. The album started a trend by blending hip hop and electronic music.

The most influential of his works is none other than 808s and Heartbreak, where a heavy-hearted West experienced a personal crisis and let it out in the form of exceptional ballads intertwined with auto-tune and a TR-808 drum machine. The result was a project so unique that critics at the time struggled to label it rap.

Kid Cudi, who helped in the making of 808s, saw all of his major albums that followed a similar archetype make the top-five on the Billboard Top 200. Auto-tune as a technique in rap became more popular after 808s through artists like T-Pain, Future, Travis Scott, the Weeknd, and Young Thug, who have made it a staple on most of their projects.

Drake, who has made a name for himself in his use of emotional breakdown and sorrow in his tracks, has gone on the record and said: “I [have] the utmost respect for Kanye West. I’d even go as far as to say he’s the most influential person as far as a musician that I’d ever had in my life.”

The fact of the matter is, West is the forefather of modern rap and R&B. He doesn’t need to headline mainstream news to be a part of it. Like how children emulate their parents’ values through their influence, Yeezy is constantly reminding the public of his musical supremacy through his effect on other artists’ works.


Graphic by @sundaeghost


Why world music doesn’t (or shouldn’t) exist

The case against a genre that generalizes the planet

When someone talks to you about pop music, you have a certain idea of what that sounds like. The same goes for rock and its various subgenres: punk, metal, grunge. Likewise, if I say I like hip hop or R&B, you can somewhat tell what kind of sound I’m into. But what about world music? What does that evoke? Does it even mean anything at all?

The term “world music” is not only odd, but it is also sometimes used in a way that’s almost perversely Western-centric. When scouring Apple Music’s genres, for example, you’ll see pop, alternative, hip hop, rock, country, and jazz as some of the main genres. Then, at the bottom of the list, the “world” section sits, devoid of any indicator as to exactly what you’ll find inside.

Though surprising at first, there is such a concept as world music—and it is in total opposition to the “genre” found on various streaming apps, containing music from all over the world with no distinction of style. In North America, one of the first definitions for world music date back to the 1960s and was coined by ethnomusicologist Robert Brown.

As Brown founded the World Music Program at Wesleyan University in 1965, in Connecticut, his goal was to put Western music on the same proportional ground as other musical trends across the globe. The term “world music” actually referred to music from across the world, separated into traditions that pertained to certain geographical boundaries. Thus, the term was meant to be inclusive—not distinguishing Western music from other trends, but putting it on the same stand as everything else.

Brown’s definition of the term, however, did not catch on elsewhere in the United States. The 1970s brought the creation of more institutions with a focus on “world music.” Those institutions would use the term to define “non-Western” or “ethnic” musical trends—something that seemingly has remained until today, to a certain extent. The name became popular, to a point where we now have an entire Billboard chart (established in the 1990s) dedicated to this new marketed “genre.”

But now, in 2019, as you look down that chart, a couple things stand out. As of Jan. 12, the top 12 albums on Billboard’s Top World Albums Chart were released by South Korean K-Pop groups, who perform typically pop, hip hop, or EDM-influenced music. This time last year, Billboard’s top 10 featured K-Pop sensation BTS at the top (hip hop, South Korea), rival group EXO following right behind (R&B, South Korea), and a potluck of international artists: Trio Da Kali and Kronos Quartet (traditional griot, Mali), Celtic Thunder (Celtic folk, Ireland), Residente (hip hop, Puerto Rico). Seemingly, the only similarity between these artists is their non-Americanness, and possibly, the language in which they perform.

Streaming apps, such as Spotify and Apple Music, have already started making efforts—half-assed, but efforts nonetheless—in endowing their platforms with more inclusive labels. Spotify has no world-labelled genre subsection. Instead it has specific, geographically-based ones: Arab, Desi (India, Pakistan, Bangladesh), Afro (non-Arab, often Black artists from Africa), K-Pop and Latin. Apple Music follows a similar trend, with K-Pop and Latino genre labels, yet still provides a world section, with a patchwork selection of genres.

However, the issue with such geographical labels is that, while efficient and somewhat seemingly inclusive, they still make an odd distinction of the “other.” Does your streaming app offer a “Western” subgenre?

Yeah. That’s what I thought.

These geographical labels can be useful—especially if you’re curious about music in a certain language, or from a specific country—but shouldn’t constitute genres in and of themselves. While this could have been different a century ago, the truth is that artists from across the planet now perform in a wide range of styles, regardless of borders. Geographical distinctions can—even should—exist alongside musical distinctions.

Here’s an idea: bring the “world” artists in the “Western” genres. Get NCT 127 (urban hip hop, South Korea) to compete with other pop or hip hop artists. Bring Babylone (indie folk, Algeria) into the folk charts. Don’t keep Maritta Hallani’s latest album, Maritta (pop, Lebanon), to a style limited by the language she sings in. In fact, this isn’t a novel idea: Spanish singer Rosalía was featured in both Apple Music’s World and Pop genre sections with her album El mal querer, a brilliant flamenco record infused with R&B and pop influences. So, why not do the same for everyone?

Feature photo by Sarah Boumedda

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