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.
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.
Under no circumstances will Lizzo play “Flight of the Bumblebee” tonight. Don’t get her wrong. She’s a classically trained flautist, in addition to a singer and rapper, and could twerk circles while playing it (that’s a trademark). But as far as songs go, “ ‘Flight of the Bumblebee’ is for basic bitches,” declares Lizzo, and tonight she needs a show-off song.
It’s two hours before a live taping of 2 Dope Queens’
HBO special, and hosts Jessica Williams and Phoebe Robinson have asked
her to perform her signature move, but the stakes — HBO, the
3,000-person-deep audience at Brooklyn’s Kings Theatre — call for the
kind of song that will make eyes widen, jaws drop. Normally, the
trill-filled missile in Lizzo’s arsenal is 19th-century French composer
Jean-Baptiste Arban’s “Carnival of Venice,” a song that requires the
lung capacity of a runner trained at high altitude and the ability to
double-, sometimes triple-, tongue. Except a producer just
apologetically entered the dressing room to tell her she’s so so sorry,
but she can’t play that particular song. Something about legal.
What to play? she wonders aloud in a mild panic to the eight or so people milling about. The producer helpfully starts suggesting other legally cleared songs. “How about ‘Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star’?”
People are often surprised that Lizzo can actually play the flute.
At 30, she’s been playing for 20 years, since she was a preteen in her
Houston junior high school’s marching band and people would tell her
“that shit is corny!” She went to the University of Houston on a music
scholarship. She practices four hours a day when her schedule permits.
The flute even has its own Instagram account, @sashabefluting (it follows no one). She’s played on most of her albums, starting with 2015’s Big GRRRL Small World, and does so again on her forthcoming major-label release, Cuz I Love You, which drops this spring.
junior-high punks might have called her corny, but like most hobbies
people mock you for in adolescence, it’s now one of her greatest assets.
The flute is earning her Shade Room–blessed viral fame, especially
after one particularly notable moment from a performance at the
University of Iowa’s homecoming. As she tells it, that video was born
out of a direct challenge to her ability to play the flute — or to
perform at all. During sound check, a professor threatened to report her
to campus police unless she showed permits. “The privilege that you
have to have to walk up to young women, brown women, black women, and
yell, ‘Do you have a permit to be here?’ While we’re clearly onstage
with microphones singing and dancing,” says Lizzo, shaking off phantom
pangs of annoyance. She was so fired up that night, she told the
audience the story, then ripped into a flute reworking of “Big Shot,”
from Kendrick Lamar’s Black Panther soundtrack, while she and
her two dancers, dubbed the Big GRRRLS, hit the shoot with more
ferocious joy than BlocBoy JB ever had, even though he invented the
dance. She ended by lobbing her trademark “Bitch!”
was from the bottom of my heart,” Lizzo tells me. “That was for anybody
who tries to stop my shine and tries to challenge my existence. Don’t
challenge my motherfucking right to be here, bitch.” She posted
a video with the caption “have u ever seen a bitch play flute then hit
the shoot?” And since nobody had, it got half a million views. People
started making Lizzo flute YouTube mash-up videos. She released a single
version of it called “Bye Bitch.”
Lizzo plays the flute, it’s a gentle “Fuck you, yes I can,” to everyone
who is surprised to see her take the stage in a spandex bodysuit and
play a song by an old Frenchman. She knows she’s doing something with
the instrument that nobody’s ever done (please see: recent Instagram
videos from her album-listening party in an L.A. strip club — a
singular moment in flute-performance history). Her career has been full
of those kinds of expectation-defying swerves, ones that shock, delight,
and challenge preconceptions. And not just ours, but her own. “I’ve
said it before, but me just existing is revolutionary,” she says again.
People think they know what to expect from a pop star, but then they
She pulls out her beloved Sasha Flute (so named for Beyoncé’s third album, Sasha Fierce) and begins to run scales. “I could play some fake jazz shit, but that’s boring.” She improvises some exaggerated riffs in the key of Anchorman. Finally she decides to play “Bye Bitch,” in tribute to her viral moment. She tests a few bars, making sure she can play and clap cheeks at the same time. She can.
In January, Lizzo
released “Juice,” an energetic funk affirmation that should have Bruno
Mars watching his throne. When she sings, “If I’m shinin’, everybody
gonna shine,” in the song’s bridge, it’s both an earworm and a mission
statement. By her own declaration, Lizzo has been at the forefront of
the positive movement. Which positive movement? All of them. She’s sex
positive, body positive (hers and yours), vocally practices self-love
and self-care. “I am a pioneer in creating modern self-love,
body-positive music,” she explains, which could ring cheesy — or, worse,
totally disingenuous. But it isn’t just the modern twists she puts on
old self-help sentiment (e.g., “I just took a DNA test; turns out I’m
100 percent that bitch”) that keep it from teetering over the line. It’s
the fact that Lizzo has been teaching herself to be 100 percent that
bitch since she was Melissa Jefferson, a self-described dorky,
family moved to Houston from Detroit when she was 9. Her parents worked
long hours building a succession of businesses, and her two older
siblings were often doing their own thing, so music was an early
babysitter. In sixth grade, “the flute chose her,” when her school’s
band director asked Lizzo if she wanted to learn the instrument. At 14,
she formed her first rap group, the Cornrow Clique, with two of her
classmates and got her nickname, Lizzo. (She was originally Lissa, but
Jay-Z’s “Izzo” was a popular song at the time.) She could rap — which
should have made her popular — but she was in marching band, so she
wasn’t. Also she smiled too much and laughed too loud. Sometimes she
wore hippie clothes, like flowing shirts and bell-bottom jeans. She
listened to Radiohead and Death Cab for Cutie because her older sister
did. She wore Uggs, the tipping point. Her classmates said she was “too
white.” “But like, Lil Wayne also wore Uggs,” she points out.
started college in 2005, but by her junior year, she felt trapped by
all of the boxes she was trying to fit herself into. Was she an AKA,
making the rounds at all the historically black sorority and fraternity
parties? Was she the rapper performing at late-night shows? Was she
pursuing the flute professionally and committing to 7 a.m. master
classes? She couldn’t make all those identities fit together, so she
dropped out. Her parents had moved to Denver, and without the dorms, she
often slept in her car, a T-boned 1990s Subaru. But the universe always
offers another weird portal — and a floor to sleep on. In 2008, she
joined her first real band, playing the flute in the prog-rock-inflected
Ellypseas. “I dead-ass asked them if they wanted to get on MTV.” They
did not. She didn’t realize it then — or maybe she was afraid to admit
it — but those were her ambitions. The band never made it to TRL, but it was good enough to book shows at South by Southwest.
slept at the band’s rehearsal space, sometimes on the drummer’s floor.
“I would drive around to my friends’ houses, and if they were having
dinner, I’d be like, ‘Hey, come hang out! You got some food? Let’s kick
it!’ And just eat the chicken and rice. Actually, I was a vegetarian. So
I would eat the chicken-juice-soaked rice.” She shrugs. “I was like,
‘I’m too broke to have morals.’ ”
2010, the band retired, and her father passed away. She communicates
with him now, through a psychic medium she frequently visits in L.A.,
but at the time, it sank her into a depression. She finally answered her
mother’s pleas and joined her in Denver. Ten months later, restless,
she moved to Edina, a suburb of Minneapolis, at the behest of a friend
who thought she’d like the music scene there. She did. Aaron Mader,
a.k.a. Lazerbeak, a local producer and member of rap collective
Doomtree, describes the Minneapolis scene as a collaborative utopia. One
night Lizzo could open for a punk band; the next, she could collaborate
with an electronic band. She lent backup vocals for a rock-soul group
and performed at the legendary First Ave, the venue made famous by
Prince. To prepare, she watched Purple Rain, took a rowboat into the middle of Lake Minnetonka, and purified herself, just like Prince did in the movie.
all the diversity of genres, though, the scene was still dominated by
white dudes. Younger acts — especially women and women of color — found
it difficult to break through, but it also meant that people noticed
Lizzo a lot faster. “When someone is a force and has an energy about her
that is pretty magnetic, it didn’t take her long for people to pay
attention,” says Mader.
formed two bands. First, the Chalice, which made melodic pop with a
little bit of rap like the Spice Girls. Later, she and the Chalice’s
Sophia Eris started GRRRL PRTY and went full N.W.A, explains Lizzo. “We
were crazy,” recalls Eris. “It was like a riot onstage. Women just like
drinking, cussing, and rapping and singing.” GRRRL PRTY became a local
darling. Even Prince took notice, asking them to record a song,
“Boytrouble,” and inviting them to play a show at Paisley Park. They
couldn’t curse or drink onstage, but they did get to play in front of a
projection of Finding Nemo.
On the side, Lizzo was also working on solo material. She felt a lot of anger and sometimes a crisis of confidence. She needed an outlet. “There’s one line on my first album where I say, ‘I got a lot on my chest, so here’s my breast reduction.’ ” She’s referring to a line from “Hot Dish,” off Lizzobangers, which she worked on with Lazerbeak. They met when she tweeted, “I wish I could afford a Lazerbeak beat,” and he responded, “Just give me a case Mike’s Hard Lemonade.” After Lizzobangers, she entered what she calls her artsy-fartsy phase, which, like any good indie musicians in 2015, included bangs, a visit to Bon Iver’s Wisconsin studio, April Base, and a Pitchfork mention. The album that resulted, Big GRRRL Small World, persuaded Atlantic to sign her, and she moved to L.A., taking as much of her Minneapolis crew as she could. Next thing she knew, she was opening for acts like Sleater-Kinney, Florence + the Machine, and Haim.