The artist, who’s ready to
drop long-awaited new music, redefined hip-hop vocally and visually—and
lifting up other artists only burnishes her superstar legacy.
This spring, Melissa Arnette Elliott stood before a mass of Berklee College of Music students and faculty in Boston. She requested a moment to gather herself. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath, and tears began to fall freely over her smiling face. She opened her eyes. She began to speak to the graduating class, herself among them, just before being awarded an honorary doctorate.
A few days later, I watched Elliott’s speech on YouTube from my living room couch. I scrolled back to when she closed her eyes and counted the seconds until she spoke again. Altogether, there were 20 seconds of what I assumed was silent meditation, perhaps gratitude, in service to a life so successful, it had fashioned itself into this spectacular moment.
Two weeks later, at a recording studio just outside
Atlanta, where she’s working on a long-anticipated seventh album, I ask
Elliott if she remembers standing there for those 20 seconds. She
hadn’t known it had been quite that long. I confirm. I counted to make
sure. Her eyelids, painted green and shimmering under the overhead
lights, flutter a few times while she thinks about it more.
didn’t even realize,” she says. “You know what’s so funny? I wrote a
speech and got up there and choked up, and before I knew it, I was like,
‘Oh my God, where’s the paper?’ And it was just crumbled up on the
podium.” However, she hadn’t closed her eyes to remember her speech or
make a harried backup plan for giving one on the fly. She’s Missy
Elliott. She went somewhere else entirely.
“I went to the side of my grandmother’s house where I used to play church. I used to shout and sing all kinds of gospel songs. Ones I had made up, ones that existed in the church…I was at that place.” Elliott considers herself a very spiritual person. For her, “God is real because I went to that place and felt like he had his hands on me from a child.”
“I don’t ever make moves under pressure,” Nipsey Hussle explained to me back in February 2018. His final album, Victory Lap, had been out for less than a week, and he was stopping by New York City for an on-camera interview.
The early numbers were looking good on his latest release. Last time
that he checked, the project—which would eventually be nominated for a
Best Rap Album Grammy—was headed for a top 5 debut.
On one level, the title Victory Lap
represented the third installment of his Marathon trilogy. But as he
savored the moment, reflecting on his accomplishments to date, Nip
unpacked the words more fully. “We was able to become real successful in
the mixtape space,” he said, sipping a cup of tea. “And obviously we
announced the partnership with Atlantic Records. We established
businesses and built an ecosystem around the music with the Marathon
Store, with the Marathon Clothing, with the Marathon Agency. One of the
things [Victory Lap] means to me now, when I think about it, is
being able to stand up in the game. Being clear that Nipsey Hussle has a
clear lane in the game, and built it, and took the stairs. We had
opportunities to be assisted, but chose to do it on our own.”
In the weeks since Ermias Joseph Asghedom’s senseless murder, his legacy has come into sharper focus. If anything, the man known to many as “Neighborhood Nip” downplayed his impact as an entrepreneur and community leader during our conversation. Any misconceptions have been erased by his memorial service at the Staples Center, not to mention his hearse’s heroic last ride down a street that would soon be renamed in his honor. The intersection of Crenshaw Boulevard and West Slauson Avenue—where he came up hustling, invested millions, and ultimately lost his life—will henceforth be known as Ermias “Nipsey Hussle” Asghedom Square.
The all-too-familiar rap star narrative of diversifying into new
business ventures while turning one’s back on the streets that raised
him did not apply to Nipsey Hussle. He had a vision that went way beyond
handing out turkeys on Thanksgiving. Nipsey was extremely involved in
his local community, founding and supporting numerous L.A. businesses
and organizations. According to some estimates, the businesses he and
his partners built employed over 40,000 people, many of them ex-convicts
who might have had difficulty finding a job elsewhere. From the
co-working space Vector90 (a business incubator with built-in STEM
academy) to local ventures (a FatBurger partnership, Steve’s Barber
Shop, Elite Human Hair, the World on Wheels skating rink, and more),
Nipsey Hussle put on for his city like no other rapper in history.
was just getting started. Plans had been drawn up to open a six-story
residential building atop his smart store with a light-rail train
connecting the area he dubbed “Destination Crenshaw” to LAX. More than
just meeting with LAPD officials to discuss curtailing gang violence,
Hussle was also planning to visit Washington D.C. along with T.I. and
their business associate Dave Gross for a series of meetings with
Congress to discuss the nationwide rollout of Vector90 as part of a
larger initiative called Our Opportunity. There was a lot of important
work left to be done, which helps explain the widespread sense of
outrage at his untimely death.
Back in February 2018, Nipsey spoke
about how he dealt with one of the most difficult times in his career,
between the end of his deal with Epic Records and the game-changing
rollout of his 2013 Crenshaw mixtape, which he famously sold
for $100 apiece. “Real-life things,” is what he said he was going
through at the time. “Street shit that never really got written about,
’cause it doesn’t belong on the front page. My brother going to jail. Us
getting raided. Us having real war in the streets.”
At times like
these, this son of an Eritrean immigrant evoked a Red Sea metaphor that
may be helpful today. “I tell my daughter don’t let the water in the
boat,” Nipsey said. “The boat’ll never go down if you don’t let the
water in the boat. And that’s just water—you know what I’m sayin? That’s
just rough seas. We got a destination. We trying to get across the
ocean to the other country, or to whatever land on the other side of
this water. All that other shit, you go straight through the waves. Just
don’t let the water in the boat.”
Over the past few weeks, I spoke with some of Nipsey’s family members and inner circle about their plans to carry his legacy forward. Having spent years living and working alongside this visionary artist, thinker, activist and entrepreneur, they were all used to life in Marathon mode. Even as they fought back tears, they all agreed that this particular marathon will continue.
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
Last weekend, fans felt slighted on 21 Savage’s behalf when the Grammys came and went with barely a mention of the double nominee or his detainment by ICE officials over his immigration status. (Producer Ludwig Göransson was the only person to mention 21 Savage by name, and you might not have even spotted Post Malone’s “Free 21 Savage” shirt, as it was under his jacket.)
Last weekend, fans felt slighted on 21 Savage’s behalf when the Grammys came and went with barely a mention of the double nominee or his detainment by ICE officials over his immigration status.
(Producer Ludwig Göransson was the only person to mention 21 Savage by
name, and you might not have even spotted Post Malone’s “Free 21 Savage”
shirt, as it was under his jacket.) Following his release on bond after
nine days in custody, the British-born, Atlanta-raised musician says he
honestly wasn’t bothered by the fact most of his peers didn’t offer any
verbal support. “Nah, I was stressed about getting out,” he tells the
New York Timesin a new interview. “The Grammys is the Grammys, but when you in jail, the Grammys is nothing.”
don’t care what nobody say — everybody in that building who’s connected
to this culture, I was on their mind in some type of way,” 21 Savage
continues. “That’s all that mattered. They didn’t have to say it ’cause
everybody knew it. It was in the air. All the people that was there,
they said the words in other places and that matter just as much. All
the big artists was vocal about the situation, so I was appreciative.”
Instead, the rapper, who says he became aware he lacked legal status as a teen, “probably like the age when you start to get your driver’s license,” after overstaying his visa, is focused on staying in the country. “My situation is important ’cause I represent poor black Americans and I represent poor immigrant Americans,” he says. “You gotta think about all the millions of people that ain’t 21 Savage that’s in 21 Savage shoes.” He is currently reportedly waiting for an expedited hearing. Oh, and despite how hard you all went, 21 Savage says he even liked your memes about how British he is. Or, at least, he acknowledges them. “Some of them was funny — I ain’t gonna lie,” he jokes. “I was appreciative of that.
On the heels of his Grammy win for Best Rap Song, Drake revealed on Instagram that his 2009 mixtape So Far Gone is
coming to streaming services for the first time. Though it was
originally available for free online, this marks the first streaming
availability for the 18-track collection that features cameos from Lil
Wayne, Santigold, Trey Songz, Bun B and more. The mixtape also includes
the single “Say What’s Real,” which was produced by Kanye West.
So Far Gone not only turns 10 on February 13th, but it’s also a body of work that helped put Drake on the map. These early works don’t always make it to your go-to streaming service, especially when it comes to hip hop mixtapes, so it’s always nice when they do. You also won’t have to wait to get re-acquainted as Champagne Papi explained that the mixtape will be available to stream tomorrow, February 14th.