“Dark Lane Demo Tapes” is a collection of rough drafts about the struggles of success and hints at what his next album might sound like.
Credit Drake for being both the most sonically consistent pop star of the last decade and also a work in progress. From album to album, year to year, he draws from a standard palette of moody R&B and puffed-chest rap, emotionally charged hip-hop and muscular soul. But at the same time, he’s always slathering his approach atop new inputs: dancehall, grime, Houston rap, Afrobeats and beyond. Unlike many of his peers, he’ll put his credibility on the line for a chance to absorb and repurpose new sounds.
Which is why “Dark Lane Demo Tapes” — a largely effective album-length odds-and-ends collection but not, you know, an album — may be more valuable as data than as songs. As music, it’s a mostly sharp document of top-dog anxiety and solipsism. But it’s also perhaps a spoiler for the proper album Drake announced will be released this summer,his first since the blustery “Scorpion” in 2018.
“Dark Lane” shows Drake songs at various developmental points — full-fledged experiments in a range of regional and microscene styles, half-cooked ideas from old projects, classicist exercises, formal rhymes, informal rhymes. Omnivorous and osmotic, he feels his way around new production styles and tries out new flow patterns, attempting to make them jibe with the soft-edged style he excels at.
“War” is a U.K. drill song, ominous and sneering and full of deeply studied slang. “Demons” explores Brooklyn drill, a little jumpier than its overseas cousin. (It features two of that scene’s up and comers, Fivio Foreign and Sosa Geek.) “Toosie Slide,” which recently went to No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 thanks to its baked-in virality, is a quasi-dance song. And “Pain 1993,” a long-promised collaboration with Playboi Carti, is a chance for Drake to ably mimic his collaborator’s chirps.
What is it like to create the raw sounds that producers and musicians use to make songs?
For William “Sound Oracle” Tyler, it’s like making the art that Nick from Family Ties would construct from garbage. For Raymond “!llmind” Ibanga, it’s like cooking. For Robert “G Koop” Mandell, it’s like creating (and then immediately destroying) an elaborate sand mandala. To these elite music makers, the metaphor for describing the art of sound design may differ, but the creativity and dedication needed to stand out in this essential but little-understood corner of the hip-hop universe remains consistent.
Given how producer-centric hip-hop has become in recent years, most fans understand that a producer is the person who makes beats that rappers spit on top of. But less examined is how the sounds that producers use are created. The drums that knock in a certain special way, the head-turning keyboard sound, and the “ahhhh” that you hear everywhere? Someone had to create those in the first place, before they could be deployed in your favorite songs.
Given how producer-centric
hip-hop has become in recent years, most fans understand that a
producer is the person who makes beats that rappers spit on top of. But
less examined is how the sounds that producers use are created. The
drums that knock in a certain special way, the head-turning keyboard
sound, and the “ahhhh”
that you hear everywhere? Someone had to create those in the first
place, before they could be deployed in your favorite songs.
process of creating those sounds is called “sound design”—a term that
encapsulates not only individual sounds, but also melodies and loops
that producers will then sample, rearrange, and add elements to (you can
get an in-depth look at that process here).
As if willed into existence by our collective despair, Solange surprise-released her fourth album, When I Get Home,
last night right at the intersection of Black History Month ending and
Women’s History Month beginning. Her mind! Like her previous,
groundbreaking album A Seat at the Table, Home
is a rich tableau of collaboration, black history, and references to
her Houston upbringing (the homeward destination implied by the
collection’s title), but the album takes even more experimental risks
with her sound. Among the mix of artists involved are Gucci Mane, Dev
Hynes, Earl Sweatshirt, Cassie and … a viral Atlanta public-access
sexpert? Let’s plunge right on in to the world of When I Get Home.
It’s not entirely clear how soon after A Seat at the Table Solange broke ground on When I Get Home — she took some time off in 2017 to treat an unspecifiedautonomic disorder — but exactly one year ago, she revealed in a Billboard cover story
that she’d been working on new music. She mentioned writing in Laurel
Canyon, Topanga Canyon, and Jamaica, and said she was “following” Joni
Mitchell for inspiration, sometimes unknowingly: “It has been really
wild. The house that I was just recording in [in] Jamaica, I stayed
there for four days. And then the last day, the owner was like, ‘You
know that mural that’s downstairs in the spare bedroom that the engineer
booth is in? Joni Mitchell painted that.”
Later in the year, Solange did another interview for the New York Times’ T magazine,
where it was reported that her fourth album would “likely arrive into
the world fully formed at some mysterious and unexpected moment, like a
meteor cratering into the culture” sometime that fall. “But she will not
be rushed,” the piece warned. The album would be “still very much in
progress until the very end,” and it remained untitled at the time of
publication. “I like to be able to tell the story in 13 different ways,
then I like to edit,” she said. Though it was unfinished, Solange knew
how it would sound, noting that jazz would be at its core — though not
exclusively. She said electronic and hip-hop drum and bass elements
would also be present with the intention to make it “bang and make your
Once again citing Joni as an influence (for “lessons in balancing a career as a musician with the demands of visual creation”), she named other muses: director Busby Berkeley, dancer and choreographer Diane Madden, and Vegas theater, for inspiration for her new live shows; Missy Elliott, for visuals; and Aaliyah, Sun Ra, Rotary Connection, and Stevie Wonder’s Journey Through the Secret Life of Plants, for sonic cues. The Times wrote, “The record will be warm, she says, fluid and more sensual than her last one.”
Like A Seat at the Table, Solange gave us little time to prepare for When I Get Home, mostly because sharing her art makes her antsy; drawing out the process would only make it worse. (“I have this fear living in my body about releasing work,” she told the Times. “I don’t know any artist that doesn’t feel that before they hit the send button.”) Instead, Solange reemerged on — of all places — BlackPlanet, bringing back from the presumed dead one of the original social-media platforms (predating even Myspace) that was created specifically by and for black people. She launched her own page with lyric excerpts and a dossier of new images, both still and moving, that appear to be pieces of a larger visual project. They — along with the album’s cover, another striking portrait of Solange — were shot by Max Hirschberger and Alex Marks, creative directed by Cary Fagan, and styled by Kyle Luu and Mecca James-Williams. Images included a pole dancer (Instagram’s @neyon_tree) and scenes from a ranch, with horses and dancers styled in modern cowboy looks. Solange had referenced the latter inspiration in an earlier interview as something she’d recently taken an interest in. “Hundreds and hundreds of people every weekend are getting on horses and trail-riding from Texas to Louisiana,” she told Billboard. “It’s a part of black history you don’t hear about.” She later teased what appears to be a music video on her Instagram, instructing fans to dial the number 281-330-8004 for more clues. It’s the exact same number Mike Jones used in his song “Back Then” (“Mike jones 4 life!” she added in the caption.) She then shared the album’s full 19-song track list, with multiple songs named for geographic locales within Houston. Per her mother, Tina Lawson, it’s a map of Solange’s life: “Binz” (the street where she grew up); “Almeda” (the street where she’d get a shrimp po’boy at There’s No Place Like Nola — or Nolas, for short); “Exit on Scott” (the street where she’d eat fried chicken and beans at Frenchy’s); “Beltway” (take it to get seafood at Pappadeaux); and “S McGregor” (for a “trip down memory lane” on the street where Debbie Allen and Phylicia Rashad’s father lived and “we jogged on the bayou”).
Though Solange undoubtedly sits at the head of her table, there are others who got a chair. When I Get Home
is her most experimental work yet, the result of massive group effort
between more than a dozen artists who’ve been in Solange’s orbit for
some time. The album features guest verses from Gucci Mane (“My Skin My
Logo,” on which Solange also tries her hand at rapping) and Playboi
Carti (“Almeda”); Cassie and Abra are the lone featured women, with
vocals on “Way to the Show” and “Sound of Rain,” respectively. The rest
of the album includes repeat production and vocal contributions from her
circle of close friends: Dev Hynes, Tyler the Creator, Earl Sweatshirt,
The-Dream, Pharrell, French artist Chassol (with whom she’s toured),
Panda Bear (a.k.a. Animal Collective’s Noah Lennox), Sampha, and Jamire
Atlanta producer Metro Boomin is also brought into the mix, with production on “Stay Flo” and vocals on “Almeda.” Gio Escobar, the de facto leader of the “post-genre” New York group Standing on the Corner and a close collaborator of Earl Sweatshirt, has multiple production and composition credits, lending his group’s freewheeling, sample-heavy sound as the album’s connective tissue. The Internet’s Steve Lacy also contributed production, which Solange hinted at when she previously told the Times that the two had been “jamming” together. “He’s like, ‘OK, I got these chords.’ ‘Hey, papa, let’s go!’” she said.
While A Seat at the Table
was narrated by New Orleans legend Master P and Solange’s personal
legends, her parents, this new album doesn’t have a narrator in that
sense. But it is chopped up by interludes and snippets that involve
Houston’s finest, specifically focusing on Solange’s heroes of the Third
Ward, where she grew up. Most of them are samples, but even rap titan
Scarface makes an original one-line special appearance for the interlude
“S Mcgregor” This first interlude samples a clip from the 1987 TV movie Superstars & Their Moms, where Houston’s own Phylicia Rashad and Debbie Allen recite a poem called “On Status” written by their mother Vivian Ayers-Allen, accompanied by piano: “And now my heart knows no delight. I boarded a train, kissed all goodbye.” The song’s title is a reference to S MacGregor Way in Houston, where the sisters grew up. READ MORE: https://www.vulture.com/2019/03/solanges-when-i-get-home-explainer.html
We know it’s almost Valentine’s Day and people will go out and get expensive gifts. We found the perfect gift for you in the form of an artist you will need on your Valentine’s Day playlist, Leon Grey. We discovered the British artist on the Gram, a few months and we have been obsessed with his banging tunes since. We managed to get a hold of him and chatted everything from music, style and some cool Instagram tips.
GQ: In 2016 you were featured on a couple of online sites, but the focus was mainly on how hot you are and your Instagram profile is. What are your Instagramming secrets? How do you get that perfect shot and perfect profile?LG: Yes, throughout the years I have been featured on a few platforms which is great, and I am truly humbled! In terms of my Instagram secrets, there isn’t much to it! I am always myself and try and be natural and confident. Lighting and background are important, but the main thing is to have fun with it. GQ: We follow you on Insta so we know you are a singer, and after reading this, many will know as well. Tell us about your musical journey? How did it start and where are you wanting to take it?LG: Music has always been a huge part of my childhood and growing up, professionally it started in 2011 when I was part of a music group called The Goods which was made up of my three close friends. After a few years, I decided to focus on going solo with the great help of my good friend/producer Duncsuei. I am constantly working on my music, writing and recording daily. I am fortunate enough to be working with talented Producer Max Herman who provides me with valuable guidance. I am hugely dedicated to my craft and I hope in the future that more people from all around the world will love and appreciate my music. GQ: How would you describe the kind of music you sing?LG: My music is a combination of reggae, soul and R&B. its Leon Grey vibes! It’s taken me a few years to find my sound and I do feel as an artist your sound will always develop, change and grow with you. GQ: Who inspires you musically?LG: The list is endless Michael Jackson, Maxwell, Bob Marley, Dennis Brown and my mother of course just to name a few. My mixed heritage (Jamaican & Greek) has also played a big role. It’s not only who inspires me by what inspires me, a lot of my inspirations also come from emotions, the sea, the mountains, bustling cities, sounds – I often listen to array of genres from all around the world, it fascinates me how drum patterns and sounds can differ from each town let alone continent! GQ: What’s your dream for yourself as an artist?LG: My dream would be to create music that can positively impact on someone, whether it’s for a second, a day or a lifetime. Another dream of mine is to educate the next generation and reassure them the world doesn’t always have to be a negative place. I hope to do this through my music but more so through my voice as a young black man that has been thrown very tough challenges throughout my life.
GQ: You are a well-groomed gent. What’s your grooming routine? And what tips can you give to the GQ guy?LG: Thank you! My locks take a lot of grooming! I wash and retwist and style them myself every couple of weeks using natural oils such as lavender and chamomile, which I also use on my beard. I always use Aloe Vera that I extract from my actual plant I also use this on my body. One of my favourite hair products is the Jamaican Black Castor oil from Rooted Treasure they use traditional hand-crafted processes to create this product. My daily skin care routine consists of Kiehls facial fuel wash followed by my favourite face cream Origins ‘Save the males’. I love body oils and strong scents; Jo Malone Oud & Bergamot body oil is so good! My go-to fragrances are One Molecule, All Creed perfumes (I’m addicted) and Tom Ford Noir Extreme has been a firm favourite. In terms of grooming tips, take care of yourself and keep to your skincare/hair routine. What’s on the inside is the most important – Drink water high in PH, work out, eat nutritiously and meditate! GQ: Outside of music what else does Leon do?LG: Well… I do get up to quite a lot! I love fitness and training and eating well. I am a huge anime fan especially Dragon Ball Z. Travel is a huge passion of mine, if I could I would probably sing and travel the world constantly – there’s just so much to see. I am yet to see much of Africa which is at the very top of my list.
GQ: You live in London which many believe is the best place to have a great turn up. What are your favourite places to party in London?LG: London is such a great city, so much to do. Due to always being in the studio I don’t get time to party as much as I would like. I’m a fan of bars, pubs and restaurants. Birthdays in Dalston has good hip hop vibes, True Craft in Tottenham have the best sourdough pizza’s, beer and always play the best tunes. A favourite place of mine has to be Kiln in Soho where my very good friend Meedu is Head Chef, a must when you are visiting London. GQ: At GQ we are all about embracing your personal style, what’s your personal style and how has it evolved over the years? LG: I agree GQ are such advocates of embracing personal style. Dressing how you want is hugely important I have always loved colour and statement pieces since I was a child. I am a 90’s child to colour runs through our veins. I am more about the look of the item than where it’s from or who its designed by, I like to be comfortable but also stand out of the crowd. Jewellery is my main stylistic element I would say, over the years I have collected silver rings (which I wear on every finger) from all over the world some of which are a huge significance to me.
I’ve been praying for the moment this tape would drop officially since this 2016 interview with Jeremih. Thank you R&B gods for making this happen! These two are well-known for making certified radio hits and R&B cuts that ride, but they’re at their best, in my opinion, when they lean into the sensual. “FYT,” their flip of Biggie’s “Fucking You Tonight,” is the perfect, smoldering example of this. Their. Runs. Phewwwwwww! (Also, no offense, but if anyone has a French Montana-less version of this, please hit me up.) —NAZUK KOCHHAR
I think straight men should be banned from having sex until they can collectively get their shit together, but Jeremih and Ty Dolla $ign’s “The Light” makes me briefly reconsider my position. It’s really Ty belting out “Let’s have sex” in the song’s hook that just sounds so right. Jeremih pulls his weight, too, matching Ty’s seductive power with his own brand of unapologetic horniness. Mih and Ty both sound super comfortable over a sample from Keni Burke’s “Risin’ To The Top.” That song has helped power good sex songs — like The Mary Jane Girls’s “All Night Long” — for the last 30+ years and MihTy’s is a welcome addition to the canon. —MYLES TANZER
“New Level” seems like the most surefire “hit” on the album. The song was originally released as a single with a guest verse from Lil Wayne but, on MIH-TY, it’s just Jeremih and Ty, going back and forth for a perfectly concise two minutes and thirty seconds. Building off a Dru Hill vocal sample, “New Level” fulfills the original promise of the collaborative album: two masters of melodic thottery bringing out the best in each other. Jeremih’s bridge on the song recalls some of his best Late Night-era runs, as he sings in a sultry whine about wishing he was a mind reader. Together, they sing about vaguely advancing a woman’s life should she choose to fuck with them. It’s a classic Jeremih/Ty premise and one that, when they harmonize, sounds pretty convincing. —BEN DANDRIDGE-LEMCO
What’s the opposite of a palate cleanser? Currently, Cardi B is featured on the No. 1 song in the country, Maroon 5’s “Girls Like You.” It is not her best, nor most apt work. So here comes the palate roughener? “Money” is effectively a stripped-bare version of BlocBoy JB and Drake’s already-bare “Look Alive,” and a de facto lo-fi rejoinder to Cardi B’s steady pop incursions over the past year. The trash talk here is pure, if a little staid: “I like boarding jets, I like morning sex/But nothing in this world that I like more than checks.” Instead, “Money” — the first solo single Cardi B has released since giving birth in July — is notable for its acknowledgment of new-mom problems: “I got a baby, I need some money, I need cheese for my egg.” JON CARAMANICA
There’s a special ambiance that permeates the air whenever Lil Wayne drops a Carter project. It’s a remarkable occasion seeing that none of the projects hold a classic album distinction in the traditional sense.
But that’s because Lil Wayne doesn’t adhere to any traditional rap guidelines. His place in Hip Hop’s pantheon can be difficult to outline in words but it’s without question he was a trendsetter for paving the genre’s entry in viable mainstream acceptance. With his penchant for taking studio mastered melodies and completely adopting them with his own zany flow, his relentless flooding of the mixtape circuit found him planted in the eardrums of millions at a different entry point. And the industry official Carter albums would live on to be a place where his multitude of fans could convene on the same accord.
And despite being seven years, 30 days and an infinite amount of trend changes since the release of the last Carter drop date, the kicker this time around is the music is simply just good.
Like all of its previous installments, Tha Carter V is a mile-long, bloated package of unpredictable zest that’s light on introspection (not to discredit Momma Carter’s impromptu interludes over the course of its 87 minutes). Yet its allurement lies in the fact that “Mixtape Weezy” and “Carter Wayne” are able to co-exist with ease.
There’s the Swizz Beatz-boosted “Uproar,” which employs the same Moog Machine sample popularized by G-Dep and Diddy at the top of the decade that gives the album a DatPiff feel intertwined with soul-drenched records like “Demon,” a quasi-Gospel cut that actually gives Wayne maturity stripes.
Even with his elder statesman status, it isn’t hard to hear Wayne’s influence has transcended a couple of generations. Travis Scott cooly incorporates Astroworld inside Weezyana on the “Let It Fly” rager, Kendrick Lamar showcases he’s a rap martian descendant on the long-awaited pairing “Mona Lisa” (ditto for XXXTENTACION, who sheds light on what could have been with his haunting performance on “Don’t Cry”) and even daughter Reginae Carter impresses with her chorus on the reflective “Famous.”
T.I. has often compared himself to 2Pac, and the claim makes sense in that both have touched on enough topics to fill 100 Wikipedia pages. Tip’s 10th proper album, Dime Trap, loudly silences any concerns over what he has left to say. The album functions as a compelling retrospective of T.I.’s life and career while proving he’s far from finished.
Billed as a “TED Talk for hustlers,” Dime Trap‘s thug motivation qualities are evident. “Looking Back” finds the Rubberband Man giving hustlers and civilians some tough love: “Tell me what you gon see when you looking back at yo life/Won’t be worth a damn if you ain’t living it right.” His words could easily come off as judgmental if Tip weren’t so transparent about his old hell-raising habits: “In Vegas, fightin’ police, me and Jeezy and ‘em/Hit the strip, Fatburger, did my thing again/All I do is kick back, blow gas and smile/Reminiscin’ ‘bout the days I was young and wild.” Tip’s front-porch reflections position him as the elder statesman he’s become and imbue Dime Trap with a sense of well-earned wisdom.
Hip-hop has never been about following rules. From the genre’s birth in the late ‘70s to today’s explosion of innovative pop-rap superstars, the music has always rewarded audacious creativity and outside-the-box thinking. While hip-hop has gone mainstream and become the world’s preeminent form of popular music, there are still artists working outside of industry boundaries and refusing to let labels, managers, or anyone influence their art. Below, we give props to five uncompromising artists who’ve found their own lanes and chased greatness on their own terms.
Dessa: A Multifaceted Artist with a Singular Voice
Before launching her career as a rapper, singer, spoken-word artist, author, and Doomtree label head, the Minneapolis native born Margaret Wander worked as a technical writer for a medical company. In a sense, she’s come full-circle with Chime, the critically acclaimed album she released in early 2018. It’s Dessa’s fourth collection of smart, soulful alternative hip-hop songs, and it was inspired by a project whereby she collaborated with neuroscientists to pinpoint the exact part of her brain dedicated to romantic love. Chime is just the latest example of how this one-time philosophy major has challenged the idea of what a female hip-hop artist can be. In a 2018 interview with Billboard, Dessa shared her secret for having such a rich and varied career: “I worry a little bit less about trying to forestall people’s opinions and just try to do good work.”
Cardi B: A Personality Too Big to Fail
By the time Cardi B topped the Billboard Hot 100 in 2017 with “Bodak Yellow,” the Bronx native was already on her fourth career. In the years leading up to her musical breakthrough, Cardi went from stripping to making viral videos to stealing scenes on Vh1’s Love & Hip Hop: New York. All of those pursuits showcased the qualities that would make Cardi one of the most exciting new rappers of the ‘10s. Cardi is sexy and funny, outrageous and vulnerable, tough as hell yet instantly loveable. Her excellent 2018 debut album, Invasion of Privacy, reached #1 on the Billboard 200 and silenced critics who thought she’d be a one-hit wonder. Invasion of Privacy has spawned a second chart-topper, the Latin-flavored “I Like It,” which you’ve surely heard blasting from cars all summer. While pregnancy kept Cardi from touring in recent months, motherhood is only going to make this vivacious truth-spitter a more compelling artist in years to come.
Tyler The Creator: More Than Just a Troublemaker
When the Odd Future collective came on the scene in 2010, nobody knew what to make of them. The blog-hyped L.A. rappers became infamous for their offensive lyrics, chaotic life shows, and unwillingness to play by anyone’s rules. Leading the pack was Tyler The Creator, a multifaceted troublemaker who’d spend the next decade revealing his genius. In addition to overseeing numerous Odd Future releases and four solo LPs — including last year’s Grammy-nominated Flower Boy — Tyler has directed music videos, launched his own Golf Wang clothing line, and spearheaded the Camp Flog Gnaw Carnival music festival. Tyler’s extracurriculars make it easy to overlook his rapping, but the fact is that he’s a stellar MC with the power to make you feel all sorts of ways. On Flower Boy, Tyler surprised everyone by serving up his most mature, confessional lyrics to date. Tyler sums up his career perfectly on the song “Who Dat Boy,” asking, “Who dat boy? Who him is?” The world will be chewing on those questions for quite a while.
Curren$y: The Underground Hero Who Never Lets You Down
The New Orleans rapper born Shante Scott Franklin knows how the big boys operate. He signed with Master P’s No Limit label in 2002, then struck a deal with Lil Wayne’s Cash Money Records in 2004. Curren$y appeared on Weezy’s Tha Carter II in 2005 and dropped the minor hit “Where Da Cash At” the following year. Neither of those projects quite made him a star, so in 2007, Curren$y jumped ship to the independent digital-only Amalgam Records and rebranded himself as a niche underground artist with an ear for consistency. In 2011, Curren$y, a.k.a. Spitta, formed Jet Life, the label he’s used to launch some of his many, many, many projects. Free of major-label interference, Curren$y has amassed a massive discography that includes eight studio albums and more than 40 mixtapes. More importantly, he’s built a devoted fan base that comes to see him perform live year after year. Spitta’s not going to break streaming records like Drake, but he’s a dependable artist in an age of disposability.
Chance the Rapper: The Superstar Who Gives His Music Away
When Chance the Rapper picked up the Grammy for Best Rap Album in 2017, it was notable for two reasons. First off, Chance’s Coloring Book is an incredible collection of gospel-inflected hip-hop songs from an artist who speaks on social issues without getting preachy or forgetting that music is supposed to be fun. Second, Coloring Bookwas the first-ever streaming-only album nominated for a Grammy. While the Recording Academy didn’t change its eligibility rules specifically for Chance, the Chicago rapper had long been at the forefront of artists challenging traditional release models. Chance is the king of the free “mixtape” — that’s how he classified Coloring Book and its predecessors Acid Rap (2013) and 10 Day (2012). Fans were able to get their hands on all three totally free of charge, and that’s helped Chance grow a gigantic fan base that includes Barack Obama, who praised the MC in 2017 for “representing the kind of young people who come out of Chicago and change the world.” Although he’s avoided selling his music, Chance has earned so much money off touring and merchandise that he was able to donate $1 million to Chicago schools.